Samsung Electronics Co., SK Hynix, and Micron Technology, Inc. Accused of DRAM Price Fixing

By: Michael Furda
Earlier this year, several large Dynamic Random Access Memory, also known as DRAM, manufacturing companies have been accused of colluding to fix prices on DRAM memory since June 2016.[1] DRAM is a type of memory used in computers, servers, graphics cards, printers, and many other common forms of technology.[2]
In April 2018, a group of consumers filed the first of several class action complaints against Samsung, Hynix, and Micron.[3] The plaintiffs allege that these manufacturers engaged in price fixing for DRAM starting in June 2016 to February 2018.[4] The plaintiffs seek to represent consumers that purchased products containing DRAM within that period.[5] They contend that during the class period, prices of DRAM more than doubled.[6] The price increase has drawn a lot of suspicion, mainly because in early 2016, Samsung, the largest DRAM manufacturer, publicly announced that it was experiencing negative growth on DRAM due to the previous years in which the three manufacturers competed heavily to capture market share from each other.[7] Shortly after Samsung’s announcement, DRAM prices began increasing and have only continued to grow.[8] For example, one 16GB DRAM memory kit was sold for $68.99 in June 2016, and by May 2018 it was being sold for $169.99.[9]
Following the complaint filed in April, another consumer filed a complaint against the same DRAM manufacturers with allegations almost identical to the complaint made in April.[10] The main difference between these complaints is that the more recent one seeks to represent only U.S. purchasers who bought DRAM directly from the companies and the class period continues to the present.[11]
Both complaints contend that the named manufacturers control approximately 95 percent of the worldwide market for DRAM.[12] Furthermore, the complaints state that because of the large market share these manufacturers hold, they deliberately reduced production of DRAM in order to increase prices.[13] Additionally, during the class period, Micron, Samsung, and Hynix have experienced a significant increase in revenue for DRAM sales; 322 percent, 260 percent, and 277 percent, respectively.[14]
These recent complaints are not the first time that these large manufacturers have been accused of price fixing DRAM. In 2006 a similar suit was filed that covered a time period between April 1999 and June 2002.[15] That suit ended up resulting in a $300 million settlement in 2006.[16] In 2005, the DOJ charged Samsung, Hynix, and several other DRAM manufacturers with price fixing.[17] Further investigation by the DOJ also resulted in several executives serving jail time.[18] Later in 2013, the manufacturers agreed to pay $310 million in California for price fixing the cost of DRAM.[19]
While it is certainly possible that these manufacturers could have engaged in price fixing during the current class periods, it is also possible that the price increase resulted from an increase in market demand. In recent years, there has been an increase in demand for DRAM due to its use in common technology such as smartphones, graphics cards, and NAND; which is used in USB flash drives, solid state drives, and many other pieces of technology.[20] In February, it has been observed that DRAM prices have begun to decrease shortly after Samsung agreed to increase its production following a memorandum of understanding with the National Development and Reform Commission, a department in China that has been recently investigating allegations of price fixing by DRAM manufacturers.[21]
Overall, only further investigation into the activity of these DRAM manufacturers over these last few years will reveal whether they have taken part in another price fixing scheme. If they are found guilty once again, it begs the question of how the courts will react to these repeat antitrust violations.
  1. Bryan Koenig, Samsung Facing Another DRAM Price Conspiracy Class Suit, Law360.com (June 27, 2018), https://advance.lexis.com/api/permalink/61044528-c3df-4152-b12d-9d0231382e4b/?context=1000516.
  2. Samsung: Settles DRAM Price-Fixing Class Action for $310-Mil, Class Action Reporter (August 13, 2014), https://advance.lexis.com/api/permalink/e9a76e86-3b21-4940-864c-a5b3699f7cc8/?context=1000516. See generally Margaret Rouse, Definition: DRAM (dynamic random access memory) (May 2015), https://searchstorage.techtarget.com/definition/DRAM (provides definition for DRAM).
  3. Kat Greene, Samsung Named In Suit Over Alleged DRAM Price Conspiracy, Law360.com (April 27, 2018), https://advance.lexis.com/api/permalink/b5e5bb66-f17e-4f32-be47-9cf996045fd1/?context=1000516.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Id.
  8. Id.
  9. James Sanders, Samsung, Hynix, Micron Sued for DRAM Price Fixing That Could Have Raised PC Prices, Tech Republic (May 1, 2018), https://www.techrepublic.com/article/samsung-hynix-micron-sued-for-dram-price-fixing-that-could-have-raised-pc-prices/.
  10. Koenig, supra note 1.
  11. Id.
  12. Id.; See generally Trendforce, DRAM Revenue in 1Q18 Rose by 5.4% QoQ to Another Record High as the Upswing of ASPs Continued (May 14, 2018), https://www.dramexchange.com/WeeklyResearch/Post/2/4980.html/.
  13. Koenig, supra note 1.
  14. Complaint at 14, Onshore Networks of IL, LLC v. Micron Technology, Inc., No. 4:18-cv-03905 (N.D. Cal. 2018) http://www.classactionsreporter.com/sites/default/files/dram_antitrust_complaint.pdf.
  15. Bruce Zagaris, IX. International Anti-Trust Enforcement Three Samsung Executives Plead Guilty for Role in DRAM Price Fixing Conspiracy, International Enforcement Law Reporter (May 2006), https://advance.lexis.com/api/permalink/ac94ceb9-3c57-4711-b5be-6827c136f465/?context=1000516.
  16. Koenig, supra note 1.
  17. Zagaris, supra note 15.
  18. Id.
  19. Koenig, supra note 1.
  20. DRAM Revenues to Top $100 Billion in 2018, ETMAG.com (August 21, 2018), https://advance.lexis.com/api/permalink/3480fc77-0182-4634-94d8-ba947327138f/?context=1000516.
  21. Green, supra note 3.

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