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SanDisk Fans Hold Fast

The past month hasn't been sunny for flash memory maker SanDisk (SNDK).

First, heavyweight Intel (INTC) announced a joint venture with Micron (MU) to compete in the market for NAND flash memory. Then came a negative Barron's story about a lawsuit alleging that SanDisk's NAND flash empire was founded on fraud.

Toss in a sell-side analyst downgrading SanDisk stock to sell and you get a 17% slide in SanDisk shares since mid-November.

Despite that decline, SanDisk bulls are unwavering. They dismiss the flurry of litigation between the company and Geneva-based ST Microelectronics (STM), and the new Intel-Micron competition.

Instead, they point to the burgeoning markets -- mobile phones and eventually laptop computers -- they believe will continue to fire up SanDisk.

"Each and every one of these lawsuits is something that could potentially blow up on them," acknowledges Kevin Landis, CIO of Firsthand Funds, which counts SanDisk as a major holding. But SanDisk has "got a pretty good record at defending themselves and at going after people they think are infringing."

SanDisk is involved in three related patent battles against ST Micro that have so far yielded mixed results. The most threatening is the suit detailed in Barron's that was filed in a California state court by ST Micro in October.

In that suit, ST Micro alleges that SanDisk founder and CEO Eli Harari, in the late 1980s while working as a director at Wafer Scale Integration or soon after leaving the company, fraudulently filed six patent applications. Harari co-founded the company that merged with STMicro in 2000.

ST Micro says that Harari conceived of the ideas behind the patents while at Wafer Scale and that consequently, the related patents should belong to ST Micro. Not coincidentally, some of those patents are the subject of another suit filed earlier by SanDisk that charges ST Micro with infringement.

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