UPDATE 1-Chipmakers in $173 mln US price-fixing accord

Thu Jun 24, 2010 1:24pm EDT

* 33 U.S. states join settlement

* Alleged conspiracy to inflate computer chip prices

* Several chipmakers fined by EU last month

NEW YORK, June 24 (Reuters) - Six companies have agreed to pay $173 million to settle U.S. antitrust lawsuits accusing them of conspiring to keep computer chip prices artificially high.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced the settlement with Micron Technology Inc (MU.O), NEC Corp (6701.T) unit NEC Electronics America Inc, Germany's Infineon Technologies AG (IFXGn.DE), South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor Inc (000660.KS), Japan's Elpida Memory Inc 6665.T and Taiwan's Mosel Vitelic Inc (2342.TW).

"These companies conspired in an illegal global scheme to fix prices on chips used in computer equipment sold to consumers, schools and government offices," Brown said in a statement. He called the size of the accord a "warning" to companies that "gouge consumers" through illegal price-fixing.

Thirty-two other U.S. states participated in the accord.

Regulators accused the chipmakers of fixing prices on dynamic random access memory computer chips, which are widely used in computers, servers and networking equipment.

Brown said global DRAM sales to large manufacturers such as Dell Inc DELL.O, Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N) and International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N) exceed $17 billion a year.

He said a related federal investigation led to guilty pleas to criminal price fixing by Elpida, Hynix, Infineon, Samsung Electronics Co (005930.KS), and 12 individuals.

Last month, European Union regulators fined those four chipmakers and five others a total of 331 million euros (US $409 million) over price-fixing. [ID:nLDE64l199]

Brown said Thursday's accord resolves two lawsuits brought by the state, as well as lawsuits by private plaintiffs.

It calls for payments of $173 million plus interest over two years, and requires court approval.

Brown, a Democrat, is running against former eBay Inc (EBAY.O) Chief Executive Meg Whitman to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as California governor. Brown previously held that office from 1975 to 1983.

The cases are California et al. v. Infineon Technologies AG et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 06-04333, and City of Los Angeles et al v. Infineron Technologies AG et al, Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco, No. 08-480561. (1 euro = US$1.236) (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, editing by Matthew Lewis)