Trade Commission to Investigate Flash-Memory Patent Infringement

Dow Jones Newswires reported yesterday that the U.S. Trade Commission is opening an investigation into potential patent infringement in the flash-memory market. According to the report, Pennsylvania-based BTG International, Inc. claims that Samsung Electronics infringed on its patents in the design of its flash-memory chips. If BTG’s claims are found to be true, Apple, Research in Motion (maker of the BlackBerry), Dell, Sony, and Lenovo (purchaser of IBM’s personal-computing line) could all find themselves paying royalties to BTG.

The core of BTG’s complaint, according to the Newswires report, is that it Samsung is infringing on its “patented methods by which flash memory can store multiple pieces of information per cell without becoming larger or more expensive.”

Given the lengthy nature of patent infringement disputes, this move is unlikely to have an immediate impact on either Samsung, BTG, or the companies using the allegedly-infringing devices. If, however, BTG’s claims are found to be true, Samsung and its customers may be forced to pay substantial royalties to BTG some time down the road. Samsung and its customers may be well-advised to take a page from Echostar’s book and redesign or replace the chips before the dispute ends up in court. Such a move would not necessarily end the litigation, but it could limit the monetary impact a finding in BTG’s favor might have.