Sony subject of U.S. antitrust investigation

Sony revealed last week that its electronics division is the subject of an antitrust investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

The company said it had received a subpoena from the federal government in what appeared to be part of a broader investigation into static random access memory (SRAM) technology. SRAM memory chips, a $28 million business last year for Sony, are commonly used in personal computers, disc drives and mobile telephones.

The investigation is more bad news for Sony, who also announced that its profit plunged 94 percent in the July-September quarter, thanks to the worldwide laptop battery recall and losses from its video game business.

News reports said Sony was at least the fifth company whose SRAM business had come under investigation by American regulators. Matsushita Electric and Toshiba of Japan, Samsung Electronics of South Korea and Cypress Semiconductor of San Jose, CA, are also on the list.

An earlier investigation by the Justice Department into price fixing in the market for DRAM (dynamic random access memory) led to $731 million in fines imposed on four companies and several individuals.

Also last week, European antitrust regulators said that they had carried out raids on several (unnamed) semiconductor makers in Germany this month. The European Commission said it had reason to believe the SRAM manufacturers had broken the organization’s rules that prohibit price fixing.