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Infineon To Pay $160 Million For Fixing RAM Prices

timothy posted about 10 years ago | from the long-running-saga dept.

The Almighty Buck 356

Jerrod K writes "Infineon Technologies pleaded guilty to charges of price fixing in an international conspiracy. The Justice Department said this is the third largest antitrust settlement ever. Other memory chip makers involved include Hynix, Samsung, and Micron Technology." Reader phalse phace adds a link to CNET's coverage.

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Sweet. (5, Interesting)

rincebrain (776480) | about 10 years ago | (#10260013)

Does that mean I can upgrade my RAM for less than the cost of a new processor now?

I mean, seriously. The prices were ludicrous for high-end manufacturers, and the low-end can sometimes die, and you have no recourse.

Huzzah!

Re:Sweet. (4, Interesting)

Jason1729 (561790) | about 10 years ago | (#10260088)

Compare the transisitor count in a 256 meg DIMM to a CPU. That's 2 gigabits and a minimum of 1 transistor per bit, so at least 2 billion transistors. Intel and AMD barely have over 100 million in their newest CPUs, so the memory has 20 times the transistor count.

A lot more engineering goes into a CPU, but the price of memory compared to a CPU isn't really that surprising.

A lot of the microcontrollers I work with are basically a tiny sliver of processor on the edge of a large field of memory.

Jason
ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]

Re:Sweet. (3, Interesting)

Kogase (811902) | about 10 years ago | (#10260181)

But aren't the transistors on a CPU considerably smaller? And don't CPU production facilities cost consiberably more than those for RAM chips? Notice the "don't" and the question marks.

Re:Sweet. (3, Insightful)

Jason1729 (561790) | about 10 years ago | (#10260310)

I don't know, but comparing the die size of the CPU to the area taken up by the chips on the memory module, it 'looks' like the memory is at least as dense as the CPU.

I'm pretty sure (but not certain) that a memory fab plant costs more to produce than a CPU plant, but the memory plant will produce far more chips over its lifetime.

Jason
ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]

Re:Sweet. (0, Redundant)

rincebrain (776480) | about 10 years ago | (#10260204)

I recognize that the RAM is, if not the, then one of the most intricate and cost-intensive parts to produce and to purchase.

I was simply pointing out that it's bloody expensive, too.

Re:Sweet. (5, Interesting)

LionMage (318500) | about 10 years ago | (#10260442)

I recognize that the RAM is, if not the, then one of the most intricate and cost-intensive parts to produce and to purchase.

Well, I can't speak to the cost-intensive part of your assertion, since I am not privy to some details about the economics of chip production. But intricate? Not hardly. DRAM and SRAM chips are laid out mostly in a grid, with very little real-estate set aside for control logic. The only complexity is the control logic; the rest of the chip is just a matrix of transistors (and, in the case of DRAM, one capacitor per transistor to actually store the bit).

RAM chips are pretty easy to design and lay out because of the inherent regularity in their structure.

Re:Sweet. (4, Interesting)

ZorinLynx (31751) | about 10 years ago | (#10260384)

I've always wondered why they can't manufacture DRAM chips with spare memory cells, the same way that hard drives get spare sectors. Then rather than tossing out chips for as little as one bad bit, they can remap the bad bits to the spare cells and still use the chip.

Yields would go up, prices would go down.

I can't be the only person to have thought of this; why isn't it done?

-Z

Re:Sweet. (2, Insightful)

Jason1729 (561790) | about 10 years ago | (#10260400)

My guess is you'd need some non-volitile storage to keep track of the bad bits and the mappings. A little non-volitile memory will more than double the cost of the chip and the remapping will slow the memory down to much.

Re:Sweet. (2, Informative)

mobby_6kl (668092) | about 10 years ago | (#10260445)

I'm not sure if they currently do this, but they (and the CPU guys) do something similar for speed: if this module can't do stable 533, rate it at 400, if it can't do 400, rate it at 333 but just sell it.

The $160 million dollar tax question... (5, Funny)

garcia (6573) | about 10 years ago | (#10260017)

The real question is do they get to give away a bunch of 256k chips to schools as a tax credit?

Re:The $160 million dollar tax question... (3, Interesting)

Nos. (179609) | about 10 years ago | (#10260082)

Hopefully not, even though another company was allowed to do something similar
Since sending out a cheque to every buyer affected would be next to impossible, they should have to sell their chips below (or at) cost until the fine is made up. That way, those who were harmed would have a chance to recoup some loss.

Re:The $160 million dollar tax question... (3, Insightful)

cmstremi (206046) | about 10 years ago | (#10260287)

But those that were harmed already have the memory they needed. All the discount RAM in the world isn't going to be a remedy to everyone - only those who need more memory.

Re:The $160 million dollar tax question... (5, Informative)

Martin Blank (154261) | about 10 years ago | (#10260367)

It's a fine, not a settlement. They're expected to cut a check for the amount to the government, not reimburse consumers.

Re:The $160 million dollar tax question... (2, Insightful)

Casca (4032) | about 10 years ago | (#10260388)

Oh yeah, that would be a great idea, let them dump to gain market share. Too bad for their competitors.

Odd Concept (5, Funny)

Timber_Z (777048) | about 10 years ago | (#10260021)

I recall that things got pretty bad for awhile, but I still have a hard time with the concept of price fixing, when I clearly remember paying $150 for 8MB of ram, and how good of a deal that was.

Re:Odd Concept (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260119)

Well, if they hadn't have been price fixing, the ram prices would have gone down 99.9% instead of just 99.7%.

Re:Odd Concept (2, Interesting)

HBI (604924) | about 10 years ago | (#10260413)

I remember paying $450 for an entire XT compatible with 640mb of RAM. The price without RAM was $200.

It was well over $1000 a meg at one point. The price of RAM has been dropping over the years though. In the early days (70's) you could spend that much on 64k of Static RAM.

Fine line between "dumping" and fixing (3, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 10 years ago | (#10260475)

So if you get together with the other RAM vendors to stabilise the market to keep it sustainable (like OPEC and many others do) then that's illegal price fixing.

If you sell at too low a prices then you're "dumping" and that's illegal too.

One law is there to protect the consumer and the other is there to protect other suppliers.

Unless companies can sustainably make profit from their silicon sales we're doomed to boom and bust cycles where we oscillate between RAM surpluses and RAM shortages. In the long run, we all lose if these companies cant stabilise and make reasonable profits.

What does this mean for me? (0)

Zed2K (313037) | about 10 years ago | (#10260025)

Does this mean I get a coupon or something now?

Re:What does this mean for me? (1)

Randy Wang (700248) | about 10 years ago | (#10260085)

It means you get cheaper RAM, methinks.

And a hug. Everyone likes hugs!

Does this mean memory prices will fall? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260029)

After this case will memory prices fall significantly?

Btw, first post ;) yay

Re:Does this mean memory prices will fall? (2, Interesting)

The Clockwork Troll (655321) | about 10 years ago | (#10260074)

No, in fact now the high prices are legitimized because they all need to pay restitution and legal bills.

Re:Does this mean memory prices will fall? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260112)

No, you fail it ;( boo

Re:Does this mean memory prices will fall? (5, Insightful)

mr_spatula (126119) | about 10 years ago | (#10260115)

Sure. Just like CD prices fell after the CD price fixing settlemet... oh, wait...

Then I guess this will be like my rates with progressive going lower after they had the class action law suit over adjusting rates based on credit... oh, wait... that didn't happen either.

The only peopel to benefit from this will be the lawyers and the major companies - the rest of us will be lucky to get a coupon for a dollar off.

Re:Does this mean memory prices will fall? (1)

Lord Kano (13027) | about 10 years ago | (#10260435)

Sure. Just like CD prices fell after the CD price fixing settlemet... oh, wait...

You can get new releases at Best Buy and Circuit City for like $13. It wasn't like that 5 years ago.

LK

And just how do I benefit? (2, Interesting)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | about 10 years ago | (#10260030)

And just how do I benefit?

It's not like I expect them to send me a check in the mail. And if they did, it would cost me more in time and effort to collect it than it's value.

The lawyers should have to be paid just like everyone else that sees any part of this settlement.

Re:And just how do I benefit? (5, Funny)

xsupergr0verx (758121) | about 10 years ago | (#10260073)

Maybe it's like the RIAA settlement.

Each lawyer gets a new yacht, and we get a check for $4 in the mail.

Re:And just how do I benefit? (5, Funny)

geeklawyer (85727) | about 10 years ago | (#10260325)

Each lawyer gets a new yacht, and we get a check for $4 in the mail.

I must be missing the joke. Why is it bad I get a yacht?

Re:And just how do I benefit? (3, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | about 10 years ago | (#10260167)

there's added incintive for the companies to NOT DO THIS SORT OF THING now, the society as a whole benefits and that is how you get the benefit.

that's the whole point of those fines, you make the RISK of running such price fixing schemes too high that they don't want to take it.

like the fairly recent cartel busts in metal and paper industries(northern+mid europe)... you don't directly get anything but by punishing with hefty fines (also in the 100m+ range)they send a message that "don't fucking do this".

Re:And just how do I benefit? (4, Funny)

strictfoo (805322) | about 10 years ago | (#10260293)

there's added incintive for the companies to NOT DO THIS SORT OF THING now, the society as a whole benefits and that is how you get the benefit.

Yes, these wonderful lawyers who are doing this for the little people like you and me. The fact that they're making millions of dollars is inconsequential to them.

I mean, look at the music industry! They've definitely changed their ways now that 20 different lawyer firms have made millions off of them and we've all gotten $2.85 checks in the mail.

Re:And just how do I benefit? (2, Insightful)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | about 10 years ago | (#10260353)

Yes, these wonderful lawyers who are doing this for the little people like you and me.

Actually, yes. Imagine that, a lawyer can right a social wrong AND get paid well at the same time. Sounds like a noble profession.

Disclaimer: IANAL

BTM

Re:And just how do I benefit? (1)

strictfoo (805322) | about 10 years ago | (#10260433)

Great, so, they're creating another "social" wrong - receiving tons of money by having a skill set (and lack of morals) that allows them to abuse a corrupt and broken system. I really wouldn't call price fixing RAM as being a "social" wrong either.

You realize who ends up paying these lawyers, right?

Here's a hint: It's not the companies. It's not the insurance companies. It's not the government.

Here's the answer: It's the consumers (that's you and me).

Now thats fair. (5, Insightful)

DAldredge (2353) | about 10 years ago | (#10260033)

A local family man is facing 20+ years in prision for walking into the vault at the back where he worked and taking 100,000 USD.

Why do large corps get away with crap like this, hell the goverment doesn't even go after those whitecollar criminals that skip bail...

But, normal crimes they come down hard on.

Re:Now thats fair. (2, Insightful)

slashjames (789070) | about 10 years ago | (#10260127)

It all comes down to keeping control of the country/society. There is more "common" crime than "white collar" crime; therefore you punish the common criminals more severly to keep the commoners in line, and make a show out of punishing the white collar criminals. Always bear in mind there are a LOT more people who make $100k.

Re:Now thats fair. (5, Interesting)

lothar97 (768215) | about 10 years ago | (#10260187)

What's even more aggrevating is that these companies, once they pay for the mistakes in some manner (such as a fine), they are free to function as if nothing went wrong.

A perfect example is MCI/Worldcom. After imploding under massive amounts of fraud, screwing tons of people out of investments, employment, 401ks, etc, the company gets to "re-organize," pay a fine, then get government contracts. I bet if I'm punished for fraud, I would be shunned for life in any type of business setting.

This corporate crime problem will continue as long as it can be solved by fines, admitting no wrongdoing, and the limited minor punishments for those involved. I imagine if we held these people personally liable for all damage, put the company under 5-10 years probation, and made sure large jail sentances were required, we'd see a lot less of this trickery.

Then again, we don't want to hurt the innocent employess, and we don't want excessive government regulation.

Re:Now thats fair. (2, Interesting)

raygundan (16760) | about 10 years ago | (#10260339)

I agree with you. If they managed to find enough evidence to prove there was collusion, then surely they have enough information to point out the names of at least some of the people involved in the price fixing. These people should all be punished under normal theft laws for taking the money.

Your pick:

1. One huge count of stealing millions as if it were from a federal bank.

2. Hundreds of thousands of smaller counts of stealing from the individuals and companies who paid higher prices for their RAM.

The punishment should include immediate repayment of the amount they gained through price-fixing, and whatever additional jailtime and fines are associated with theft of that magnitude (or quantity). Only when the *people* who run corporations are subject to the penalties for their illegal actions will this crap stop.

It strikes me as an odd side effect of "corporate personhood" that the crime belongs to the company, and the individuals are not punished-- yet we have no comparable punishments for a company. We can't put a corp in jail for 20 years, and we can't give it the death penalty for awful crimes. So everything is just a fine... and companies treat it as "cost of doing business," just like you and I paying speeding tickets.

Re:Now thats fair. (1)

Psyrg (730923) | about 10 years ago | (#10260377)

Well, looks like the best way to commit crimes these days is to start a company, float it somehow and set yourself up as the CEO. Rip some people off, and then procede to cash out and disapear.

Perhaps something like the Nuremburg Trials [umkc.edu] for corperate types. Even though these people don't commit the crimes directly, the still ordered them.

Re:Now thats fair. (5, Informative)

Daniel (1678) | about 10 years ago | (#10260341)

My dictionary (written circa 1911) says:

CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

Does that answer the question?

Daniel

China executes its white collar criminals... (1)

dhakk (613823) | about 10 years ago | (#10260422)

There is the other side of the coin of course, as I found the article I had first read on the execution of four bankers:

http://money.cnn.com/2004/09/14/news/international /china_banks.reut/?cnn=yes [cnn.com]

Best line in it is: 'Legal experts have proposed what they call a "kill fewer, kill carefully" policy for nonviolent crimes.'

Gives me the warm fuzzies all over.

Re:Now thats fair. (1)

Mad_Rain (674268) | about 10 years ago | (#10260466)

I think that's because law enforcement or government agencies can explain to most people (99.999%, with a 4% margin of error ;) ) what is wrong with robbing a bank. It's a visible, tactile, removing of money from a secure place into the hands of someone who has a difficult time explaining ownership.

On the other hand, they'd be pretty lucky if they could explain several white-collar crimes to more than 60% of the population. Most people can't "touch" the concepts of white-collar crime, and in some cases, only pretty sharp accountants can even see it happen.

So later on, when people ask the law enforcement groups or government agencies "What have you done for me lately?" they want to be able to point to things that they've done, that others can really understand. Of course, this doesn't mean that white collar crime isn't important, or that it doesn't effect everyone, it's just a guess at a reason why it doesn't get as many eyeballs looking at it than a bank heist.

First post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260040)

Meanwhile this slashdot reader pleaded guilty to writing the first post.

Re:First post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260176)

And now he'll be pleading guilty to FAILING IT!!! Sentence will be mandatory membership in the GNAA for 3 years.

Re:First post (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260318)

You posted a huge 2 mins (minimum 62 secs) after the first one. How fucking slow do you type!

Oh well (4, Funny)

JLSigman (699615) | about 10 years ago | (#10260057)

Guess we won't be getting our $13.50 checks. :-p

So that's the reason... (1)

ircubic (813042) | about 10 years ago | (#10260058)

..that DRAM has been so expensive for our Dell computers at home
Shame on you! [/Old Mother]

Correct the %^&$# summary! (0)

silicon not in the v (669585) | about 10 years ago | (#10260062)

None of the other manufacturers were involved in, or even named in this settlement. It was just Infineon. The summary isn't outright false, but it's sure misleading.

Re:Correct the %^&$# summary! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260094)

"None of the other manufacturers were involved in, or even named in this settlement. It was just Infineon."

Hey, it's Slashdot. You should at least be happy the other manufacturer's names were spelled correctly. ;)

Re:Correct the %^&$# summary! (1)

corngrower (738661) | about 10 years ago | (#10260116)

It looked like Samsung and Micron were also involved in this little scheme. The feds must have quite substantial evidence against them, otherwise the companies normally just agree to compensation without admitting any guilt. I recall noticing during those years that dram prices were abnormally high, as they hadn't been falling like they normally would be.

Re:Correct the %^&$# summary! (4, Informative)

nuclear305 (674185) | about 10 years ago | (#10260134)

If you were to actually pay closer attention to TFA, You'd have noticed the related articles linked at the bottom. More specifically this [theregister.co.uk]

"The case centres on allegations that between the end of 2001 and mid-2002, Samsung, Hynix, Micron, Infineon and others covertly agreed to up prices. The alleged jump in prices followed a two-year slump in demand that drove most memory production lines into operating at a loss."

They may not have been named in the settlement, but they certainly have been named at one point or another.

Re:Correct the %^&$# summary! (3, Informative)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 10 years ago | (#10260249)

Um, not only did you not RTFA, but you don't seem to realize what the term, "price fixing" means. In a non-monopoly environment(like memory), if one company raises it's prices, it's not price fixing, it's capatilism. If the market doesn't like the higher memory prices, then nobody buys their stuff and either the prices drop or they do.
In this case though, it was a bunch of memory manufacturers who make up a very large chunk of the market colluding to keep prices high. This is kind of like a "Monopoly Voltron"->together they combine forces to become a virtual monopoly, even though they are seperate parts.

Geesh, I'm in the business of fixing things... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260067)

I guess I won't be fixing things that are broken anymore. My mum has a broken dishwasher that I was going to fix this weekend, but if I can be fined millions for fixing things, I don't want to accept that risk.
I guess my mum will have to do the dishes manually. Oh well.

Free market isn't perfect (5, Insightful)

revscat (35618) | about 10 years ago | (#10260069)

Cases like this remind me why I don't think the libertarian philosophy towards free markets is all that realistic. Many libertarians believe that things such as this should be left to the marketplace to settle, and that government "interference" like this ultimately harms the market. I emphatically disagree. There are inherent flaws with the free market that the justice system can and should remedy so that the overall market is healthier thereby. Collusion does no one -- consumers, industries, or the economy as a whole -- any favors, and I fail to see how letting the market handle it would do anything but unfairly fatten the pockets of those who benefit.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (5, Insightful)

Jahf (21968) | about 10 years ago | (#10260198)

You're right in the "many libertarians" statement, but that doesn't mean it is a clear majority. Unfortunately for Libs (like me) there are really 2 Lib groups within the party. Right/Conservative and Left/Liberal.

The Liberal side would be more in favor of government taking care of business like this but trying for the most part to stay out of other places like social laws (most especially privacy). The Conservative side is more set on seeing government stay out of business entirely as well as the social aspects.

I'm primarily a Libertarian Left because I'm more moderate on business than a Democrat, but far more liberal on social issues than a Republican, and I think both parties have sold out when it comes to privacy. However in this case I think the matter was solved properly.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (0, Troll)

srwalter (39999) | about 10 years ago | (#10260211)

I wonder how much this court battle cost the tax-payers? Will the benefit outweigh the cost?

Further consider that: 1) you don't have to buy something no matter what the cost. If they want to charge you $100 for 16MB of RAM, you can either do that, or go without RAM. Or 2) you can always enter the business yourself. If they are colluding to lower prices, it would be in your (and other businesses) self-interest to undercut them and make an even heftier profit (an economical fact if the market price is above equilibrium). The colluders would then have no choice but to do likewise.

Look at Intel vs. AMD. Intel was the only name in the business for years and years, but AMD decided they could make a comparable product (arguably better) and undercut them. And they have made significant inroads doing so.

There's no reason the above scenario couldn't happen if, instead of Intel by itself, it was 2 large corporations colluding to sell processors.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1)

revscat (35618) | about 10 years ago | (#10260350)

1) you don't have to buy something no matter what the cost. If they want to charge you $100 for 16MB of RAM, you can either do that, or go without RAM

I sure as hell DO have to buy it if my business is selling computers.

2) you can always enter the business yourself. If they are colluding to lower prices, it would be in your (and other businesses) self-interest to undercut them and make an even heftier profit (an economical fact if the market price is above equilibrium).

Unreasonable, inefficient, and untrue in any case. Justice delayed is justice denied; if companies are colluding they should be punished sooner rather than later. Further, this ignores the fact that companies frequently collude to keep competitors out of the market, and succeed in doing so.

Your idealism is touching, but falls on its face in the face of the way the market actually works.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1)

corngrower (738661) | about 10 years ago | (#10260389)

AMD has been selling '86 clones since the 8086. They didn't just happen on the scene, they've been around for nearly the same time as Intel.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (4, Interesting)

doc modulo (568776) | about 10 years ago | (#10260258)

In the age of the industrial revolution, it was free market all the way. It turned out to be a reall hell for the employees. Near-slavery situations.

In the end, the manufacturers failed as well, because they gave so little money to their employees and other population groups, that no one could affort their products anymore.

People have to abide by rules, and so do companies/corporations. corporations try to be an "individual" anyway, so they should accept the responsibilities that come with it.

Limitations on what powerful entities can do to the rest of the population is good for the population. In the end it's also good for the powerful because rules make sure that no one can leech the population dry with cartels and monopolies and people will be able to afford the products and services.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1)

maxpublic (450413) | about 10 years ago | (#10260394)

In the age of the industrial revolution, it was free market all the way. It turned out to be a reall hell for the employees. Near-slavery situations.

Not true in America. Corporations operating within the free market only made up a tiny fraction of the American economy right up to 1900, no matter what you learned in your school textbooks. More than 90% of the entire economic output of the U.S. was in the hands of small businesses, most of these family-operated.

In those businesses working conditions were better than anywhere else in the Western world. But since this doesn't make for great pro-government copy, the only thing history books focus on is the abuse workers took at the hands of corporations.

And, of course, no one talks about how all that great, wonderful, "for the people" legislation killed hundreds of thousands of small businesses, leaving corporations free to pick up the pieces, expand their markets, and levy their influence on a government eager to sell out. Nope, you won't find that in a high school or college text. It's anti-government and anti-corporation, and therefore anti-American!

Max

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1)

wynler (678277) | about 10 years ago | (#10260473)

Could you provide me some reference material on this?

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1)

Brandybuck (704397) | about 10 years ago | (#10260273)

Who did the price fixing harm? A few OEM's. What would the OEM's options have been under a free society? Sue Infineon for fraudulant negotiation. Would Infineon and friends have been able to maintain a cartel without the benefit of government copyright and patent laws? No, because there would be no barrier to entry.

Sorry, but I don't see the problem. The economy isn't a zero-sum game. Even if some RAM manufacturers managed to unfairly fatten their pockets, so what? A free market will not let any cartel keep their prices artificially high for any length of time.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1)

corngrower (738661) | about 10 years ago | (#10260288)

Correct, with the Libertarian philosophy, we'ld have situations like what was happening in the coal mines early last century. On average over 2000 coal miners died each year here in the U.S. in mining fires and explosions. That was the toll in the years from 1900 - 1910, before the government stepped in with safety regulations. Oh, and by the way the companies would hire thugs to kill picketers and union organizers.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1)

maxpublic (450413) | about 10 years ago | (#10260342)

Oh, and by the way the companies would hire thugs to kill picketers and union organizers.

And now they have government thugs to do it for them. That is, if the government doesn't decide to make it illegal for the workers to strike at all "in the national interest".

You also failed to mention that the regulations in question forced THOUSANDS of small family-owned and operated coal mining businesses to fold. Not a single major corporation suffered in any conceivable way, nearly all of the small businesses went under in less than a decade.

Yeah, that was a real win for "the people". With your natural ability to selectively present the facts that you happen to agree with, you should consider running for office.

Max

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260305)

Well, as one who studies (but does not practice) libertarianism I would say this is a situation that would not be sustainable or the situation would not even arise if we were in a complete libertarian (e.g. laissez-faire or the like) environment.

Things like tariffs, government subsidies, government nepotism, meddling, etc. have made these kinds of situations possible in the first place.

Antitrust laws are a necessary by-product of the problem, not a solution.

Re:Free market isn't perfect (1)

mwood (25379) | about 10 years ago | (#10260371)

Point to something that is perfect.

The free market does alright. Its weakness is that it requires lots of information to work well. The *necessary* function of government in such cases is that it has the power to compel the disgorgement of hidden information and to come in and sift through everything until it is found.

We all assume that, having discovered something wrong, "the government" should go on and make it right, but it doesn't have to be that way. Given enough information, the market can simply shun bad boys out of business, and if we expected to have to do that to make the system work, it would get done. If we knew that the FTC (e.g.) would simply dig out the information and post it on a page somewhere, and that we have to do the enforcement, we could do it and we could tailor our enforcement to our own (or our employers') ideas of what sort of punishment fits the crime.

Imagine that you pulled some shady deal, and now wherever you go, buyers are saying, "waitaminute, you have Sparkle Farkel on your board -- wasn't she in charge of Scamco when they cheated all those people? no thanks, I'll buy from someone else." Imagine that *billions* of potential customers are doing this because they know that (a) you did it, but (b) nobody else is going to punish you on their behalf.

It's complicated and unwieldy but it could work if enough people cared. That's a mighty big "if", though. And you still need the power to pry out the information.

And who benefits from this? (4, Interesting)

what_the_frell (690581) | about 10 years ago | (#10260079)

You can bet your cash-starved wallet it'll be the corporations DELL that will receive the compensation/benefit, and keep the RAM pricing the same for the consumers so they can continue to recoup their losses .

Re:And who benefits from this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260275)

Dell never HAD any losses... they all got handed down to the consumer! Do you think Dell could be a $40 million dollar company by taknig a hit on memory prices?

My Head Just Exploded (5, Funny)

mattgarnsey (660568) | about 10 years ago | (#10260089)

From the article (condensed for brevity):

Infineon Technologies announced today that it has plead guilty to a single and limited charge related to the violation of US antitrust laws in connection with the pricing in its Dynamic Random Access Memory.

Infineon strongly condemns any attempt to fix or stabilize prices. Infineon is committed to vigorous and fair competition based solely on superior products and services.

It really shocks other libertarians when.... (5, Interesting)

ShatteredDream (636520) | about 10 years ago | (#10260091)

People like myself, who are more classical liberals than libertarians, apply Lord Acton's famous expression "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" to economics. The more wealth that is centralized in faceless organizations, the more power they have. Yet, the wealth is not to be measured in just how much cash they have, but by the position they enjoy which can be worth more than their bank accounts.

Anti-trust laws are nothing more than a way to provide a check on corporate power. They exist to keep companies, especially big corporations, from becoming in Locke's words "a law unto themselves."

Anyone who calls themself a libertarian, opposes antitrust laws and has a sympathetic view of the south in the civil war would do well to read some of the founders of the CSA's opinions on monied corporations. The short summary is that they considered them to be a plague on basic liberties and the free market and were fighting more against the corporations who saught the tariff which taxed the southern economy terribly and used the money to line the pockets of corporations, than it was for "states' rights." The major state's right was to "be free from being sucked dry by monied corporations."

I will say this about monopolies. The government creates many of these headaches that it has to later solve by having expansive IP laws which allow patent holders to rape and pillage innovators. Would someone please tell me why we can patent online shopping carts and file formats? How about business processes in general? What about things we have never even fully or at all implemented ourselves?

If the government were to be reconstituted on classical liberal values, most of these monopolies would die like vampires in the morning sunlight.

Re:It really shocks other libertarians when.... (1)

Bequita (813032) | about 10 years ago | (#10260248)

Actually, Lord Acton wrote "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." It's quite commonly misquoted, the misquote is even in some books of quotations.

Just for the personal edification of /.ers everywhere :-)

Re:It really shocks other libertarians when.... (1)

Brandybuck (704397) | about 10 years ago | (#10260304)

Anyone who calls themself a libertarian, opposes antitrust laws and has a sympathetic view of the south in the civil war would do well to read some of the founders of the CSA's opinions on monied corporations.

Now go look at what the CSA was complaining about. You yourself say they were seeking tariffs. The problem with the monied corporations at that time was that they were receiving *government* privilege!

Would someone please tell me why we can patent online shopping carts and file formats? How about business processes in general?

Because there are *governmnet* laws allowing this. Did you think copyrights and patents sprung magically out of Lady Liberty's forehead?

Please don't complain about freedom while pointing at government coercion.

FINALLY! (3, Informative)

Silverlancer (786390) | about 10 years ago | (#10260096)

For the past 2-3 years, RAM prices haven't dropped--they've gone up. The RAM that I bought with my current computer costs MORE now than it did when I bought it a year ago, and not only that--its crap quality too! Its supposedly PC3700, but won't hit PC3700 speeds on stock timings even with extra voltage!

This is one of the few great examples where we get to love the American legal system ;)

Re:FINALLY! (2, Informative)

tukkayoot (528280) | about 10 years ago | (#10260153)

I doubt you'll see any change, as the article mentions that the price fixing was limited to certain OEMs between 1999 to 2002.

Re:FINALLY! (1)

Zed2K (313037) | about 10 years ago | (#10260251)

PC3700 isn't a standard speed. The only way to get that speed is via overclocking which voids your warrenty. So basically you are saying that you can't get your PC to use memory that it isn't rated for but you blame the memory maker?

Re:FINALLY! (1)

Silverlancer (786390) | about 10 years ago | (#10260345)

By selling RAM as PC3700, they guarantee that it can be overclocked to that level. Its part of the warranty. Overclocking to that level does not void the warranty. Read their warranty ;).

Dell referred to the memory makers as a cartel.... (1)

ARRRLovin (807926) | about 10 years ago | (#10260100)

.....no wonder their memory upgrades are so expensive. They should have just bought DRAM from Crucial. ;)

Re:Dell referred to the memory makers as a cartel. (1)

mwood (25379) | about 10 years ago | (#10260409)

Um, isn't Crucial a Micron label? :-/

Re:Dell referred to the memory makers as a cartel. (1)

ARRRLovin (807926) | about 10 years ago | (#10260478)

I was referring more to Crucial's e-commerce site ,which has lower pricing on RAM upgrades when compared to Dell.

Still. (2, Insightful)

ShizCakes (799018) | about 10 years ago | (#10260107)

This fine may be huge, but will we see a benefit from it? Probably not.

Re:Still. (1)

Anonymous Cowpat (788193) | about 10 years ago | (#10260440)

Benefit?
What are you smoking?

They now have $160million less to sink into R&D or charging less for their RAM. Either that or the innocent geeks who work for them take a wage cut. Yay!

Conflict of Interest (4, Interesting)

jmulvey (233344) | about 10 years ago | (#10260111)

"Infineon has agreed to pay a $160m fine to the US government"

Once again, the companies profit and the US government gets cash... and joe six-pack gets screwed. I mean, with the government receiving all these settlements from Microsoft and the tobacco companies... why aren't our taxes going down?

The US government has more than a bit of conflict of interest in its role as protector of the public from price-fixing and monopolies, yet recipient of huge settlements when they are allowed to grow and blossom.

I'm sure Infineon, a company that has annual GROSS PROFITS of over $2 BILLION USD a year made a hell of a lot more that $160m. So Infineon makes out, and the government makes out.

But where's my money? You remember me, the guy that got ripped off?

Re:Conflict of Interest (0)

srwalter (39999) | about 10 years ago | (#10260237)

why aren't our taxes going down?

They are. Remember that big tax cut that Bush and the Republican Congress gave you? I guess you don't.

Re:Conflict of Interest (1, Insightful)

Zed2K (313037) | about 10 years ago | (#10260311)

"why aren't our taxes going down?"

Mine did. Tax tables changed, I took more money home. I bought a house, deductable interest, even lower taxes. Don't know what you problem is.

So how do you vote? (1)

2nd Post! (213333) | about 10 years ago | (#10260428)

Do you act with all your power to reduce your own taxes?

Government's primary purpose is to further itself. Any entity's primary purpose has to be, else said entity would cease.

It's secondary purpose, then, is to govern, ie regulate and control it's people.
It's third perpose would be to a side effect of the second, and that is benefit those goverened.

Sounds to me like Crucialcould do this cheaper (2, Funny)

IronChefMorimoto (691038) | about 10 years ago | (#10260120)

They paid over $150 million for fixing RAM prices? [wink wink]

Damn. I would've thought a Crucial.com web programmer or database technician could've done that pretty easily by having each stick of RAM on the website subtract, say, $20 - $30.

That's what? $22.50 for the hour spent making the change? Hell -- even cheaper if Crucial.com outsources its website/database operations to Bangalore.

IronChefMorimoto

No, That's Impossible (4, Funny)

srwalter (39999) | about 10 years ago | (#10260130)

Every good slashdotter should realize that this is impossible. Theregister must just be trying to pull one over on us. I mean, clearly the Bush Administration is in the pocket of Corporations, and would never allow this to happen to big business. Obviously, the story is a farce.

Re:No, That's Impossible (2, Interesting)

HarveyBirdman (627248) | about 10 years ago | (#10260266)

I know you are kidding, but it's a view held seriously by many over-politicized geeks. I had one at work last month whine about how all the "Enron guys got off scot-free". I pointed him to a web page detailing the indictments and convictions already handed down, along with exactly how complex the case was (hence the delay as cases were prepared), and a little mention of "innocent until proven guilty".

You should have seen the retarded idiot go through multiple waves of ideological panic in trying to fit the facts into his monochromatic world view. Truly a scary sight. He kept trying to filter and twist the information. A world where Bush was President and Enron executives got punished simply could not exist in his tiny, broken mind.

I used to think ideology was a mental illness, but these days I think it's just the may most people's brains are wired. It's going to take another 9 million years to evolve away. So, 9 million more years of total and complete fuckheadedness from the bulk of humanity, day in and day out.

C'moooon asteroid!

Infineon Financial Stuff / Payments (3, Informative)

webword (82711) | about 10 years ago | (#10260133)

Interestingly, there is a press release [infineon.com] on this topic on the Infineon web site. Please note a discrepancy between what the Register says and what their press release says...

Register: "Infineon has agreed to pay a $160m fine to the US government for fixing the price of computer memory from 1999 to 2002, one of the biggest ever penalties imposed by the DoJ's Antitrust division."

Infineon: "The wrongdoing charged by the DoJ was limited to certain OEM customers. Infineon is already been in contact with these customers and has achieved or is in the process of achieving settlements with all of these OEM customers."

So, is the government getting the money or the OEMs. Note that either way, the trickle down to regular folks (i.e., you!) will take a long time.

p.s. I love this quote from the Infineon press release: "Infineon strongly condemns any attempt to fix or stabilize prices. Infineon is committed to vigorous and fair competition based solely on superior products and services."

Infineon 0, U.S. Department of Justice 1.

And there's still Rambus to deal with (3, Insightful)

optimus2861 (760680) | about 10 years ago | (#10260149)

The latest info I can find dates from around May [infoworld.com] , but Infineon is one of the DRAM makers facing a patent-infringement lawsuit from Rambus, and if that doesn't go well for them (Rambus had an initial setback but has been getting favourable rulings since; anyone who wants to cry "submarine patent!" better read up on the history, it's nowhere near that cut-and-dry) they could very well go under. I think they will lose it, and get hit with willful infringment for triple damages, which will easily run the damages into the billions. I doubt Infineon could absorb that.

hope we get ram. some type of certificate (2, Funny)

beefcake101 (813555) | about 10 years ago | (#10260184)

How do I benefit? hope we get ram instead of like a $5 check . i could always use more ram . hope something like bring this in to get your free 256 stick or 512 stick

Word dectives saw this case coming... (2, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | about 10 years ago | (#10260200)

They just broke down the company name to Infineon...

Big cartel, this one? Pffft. (5, Interesting)

SenorCitizen (750632) | about 10 years ago | (#10260206)

If you want a *big* international anti-trust case, just try sueing OPEC.

How are they any different?

Antitrust! (4, Interesting)

Exmet Paff Daxx (535601) | about 10 years ago | (#10260234)

Now let me state the present rules,"

The lawyer then went on,
"These very simple guidelines,
You can rely upon:
Your gouging on your prices if
You charge more than the rest.
But it's unfair competition if
You think you can charge less!
"A second point that we would make
To help avoid confusion...
Don't try to charge the same amount,
That would be Collusion!
You must compete. But not too much,
For if you do you see,
Then the market would be yours -
And that's Monopoly!

- The Incredible Bread Machine [vex.net]

There are no rules, save "Don't Succeed". Gotta love America - they love capitalism, and someday they intend to give it a go.

OPEC? (1, Redundant)

Foo2rama (755806) | about 10 years ago | (#10260336)

Call me dumb, but how is this different then what OPEC does? A small group of people set prices on what everyone pays for a commidity. After which they make a huge amount of money.

Re:OPEC? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 years ago | (#10260469)

The difference, my child, is that OPEC is an international entity with no "place of business" in the United States. As such, they have no need to obey U.S. Anti-trust laws in exactly the way the average U.S. citizen has no need of obeying the laws of the United Arab Emirates.

--AC

This is good for rambus.. (2, Informative)

MasterDater (810357) | about 10 years ago | (#10260397)

Too bad they've already been pushed out of the PC ram business. Hey, shit happens, right?

The reason for this (3, Interesting)

IGnatius T Foobar (4328) | about 10 years ago | (#10260446)

The real reason for this: Windows Longhorn is going to require an obscene amount of memory, so Microsoft's new bought-and-paid-for friends in the DOJ are making sure RAM chips are inexpensive.

Reasonable prices now? (2, Insightful)

Guspaz (556486) | about 10 years ago | (#10260449)

Does this mean that companies like Dell (Any big computer company really) will stop charging five times more than retail for memory upgrades?

I tried to price it on Dell's site for notebooks. In retail, 2x256 is the same price as 1x512, more or less. (All prices that follow are Canadian)

Dell charges 200$ for the DIFFERENCE between them.

To upgrade from 2x256 to 2x512, they charge 600$. They should be charging about 150$. When I purchased a DDR333 512MB SODIMM, I paid 144$.

Now, even when using ultra-premium ram (Which they don't), there's a big difference between 144$ and 600$.

Why do we fine coporations and jail humans? (4, Insightful)

nlinecomputers (602059) | about 10 years ago | (#10260451)

If I personally break the law I will probably be incarcerated for my crimes. Yet a corporation who's only job is to make more money then it spends simply pays a fine. If I am in jail I can't earn any money or perform any deeds outside of a very limited set of rules. Corporations shouldn't be fined. They should be forced to shutdown or even be disbanded.

"Infineon To Pay $160 Million For Fixing RAM Price (1)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | about 10 years ago | (#10260481)

I didn't know they were broke...
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