March 25, 2004 11:06 AM PST

Infineon CEO steps down unexpectedly

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Ulrich Schumacher, the chief executive of German chipmaker Infineon Technologies, resigned unexpectedly Thursday, amid ongoing investigations by U.S. and European regulators into price-fixing in the memory market.

Infineon announced the sudden resignation on Thursday, but did not give a reason for it. Max Dietrich Kley, chairman of Infineon's supervisory board, has been appointed as interim chief executive for up to a year, the company said. Usually, European companies announce executive shifts at this level far in advance.

Schumacher, 45, has been credited with helping the memory manufacturer, formerly part of Siemens, regain its footing. The company reported a profit last year, a reversal after nine straight quarters of losses. Infineon was one of the few major semiconductor manufacturers to see its overall market share in chips rise in 2003. In addition, it has struck deals with IBM and others to share R&D and manufacturing costs, an important growing trend in the semiconductor industry.

Still, Infineon has also experienced a few knocks in recent months. The company is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and the European Union as part of a probe into price-fixing in the memory industry. The agencies are examining whether Micron Technology, Samsung and Infineon worked in concert to fix prices in late 2001 and early 2002. At the time, memory prices took a steep, and rare, jump up.

A former employee at Boise, Idaho-based Micron has already taken a plea bargain in the matter for trying to block an investigation.

Infineon suffered a major reversal in its multimillion-dollar lawsuit against rival Rambus. In 2002, a federal trials court threw out Rambus' case against Infineon for patent infringement and granted Infineon millions in attorneys' fees and damages. An appeals court, however, essentially overturned the damage awards last year and ordered that the court allow Rambus to bring its case against Infineon in a new trial. If Rambus wins, the German chipmaker may have to pay its 230-employee competitor millions of dollars in damages.

 

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