GlobalFoundries has filed a lawsuit against TSMC and its clients in the USA and Germany alleging the world’s largest contract maker of semiconductors of infringing 16 of its patents. Among the defendants, GlobalFoundries named numerous fabless developers of chips, including Apple, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, and many others. The plaintiff seeks damages from TSMC and wants courts to ban shipments of products that use semiconductors allegedly infringing its patents into the USA and Germany.

GlobalFoundries says that TSMC infringed 16 of its patents covering various aspects of chip manufacturing (details), including those chips that use FinFET transistors. In particular, the company claims that TSMC’s 7 nm, 10 nm, 12 nm, 16 nm, and 28 nm nodes use its intellectual property. Considering that these manufacturing processes are used to make more than a half of TSMC’s chips (based on revenue share), the potential damages being claimed by GlobalFoundries may reach the billions of dollars.

GlobalFoundries filed complaints in the US International Trade Commission (ITC), the U.S. Federal District Courts in the Districts of Delaware and the Western District of Texas, and the Regional Courts of Dusseldorf, and Mannheim in Germany. In its lawsuits GlobalFoundries demands damages from TSMC and wants courts to bar products that allegedly infringe its rights from being imported into the U.S. and Germany.

Owing to the legal requirement to file claims against the companies who are actually infringing on GlobalFoundries' patents within the United States – TSMC itself is based in Taiwan, so their manufacturing operation is not subject to US jurisdiction – the suit also includes several of TSMC's customers, all of whom import chips into the US that are built using the technology under dispute. Among the big names accused of infringing upon GlobalFoundries' IP are Apple, ASUS, Broadcom, Cisco, Google, NVIDIA, Lenovo, and Motorola. Accordingly, if the courts were to take GlobalFoundries’ side and issue an injunction, such an action would prevent importing a wide swath of tech products, including Apple’s iPhones, NVIDIA GeForce-based graphics cards, smartphones running Qualcomm's SoCs made by TSMC, various routers, as well as devices (e.g., PCs, smartphones) by ASUS and Lenovo containing chips made by TSMC.

GlobalFoundries vs. TSMC et al
Fabless Chip Designers Consumer Product Manufacturers Electronic Component Distributors
Apple
Broadcom
Mediatek
NVIDIA
Qualcomm
Xilinx
Arista
ASUS
BLU
Cisco
Google
HiSense
Lenovo
Motorola
TCL
OnePlus
Avnet/EBV
Digi-key
Mouser

GlobalFoundries says that it wants to protect its IP investments in the US and Europe. Here is what Gregg Bartlett, SVP of engineering and technology at GlobalFoundries, had to say:

“While semiconductor manufacturing has continued to shift to Asia, GF has bucked the trend by investing heavily in the American and European semiconductor industries, spending more than $15 billion dollars in the last decade in the U.S. and more than $6 billion in Europe's largest semiconductor manufacturing fabrication facility. These lawsuits are aimed at protecting those investments and the US and European-based innovation that powers them. For years, while we have been devoting billions of dollars to domestic research and development, TSMC has been unlawfully reaping the benefits of our investments. This action is critical to halt Taiwan Semiconductor’s unlawful use of our vital assets and to safeguard the American and European manufacturing base."

GlobalFoundries vs. TSMC et al, GF's Patents in the Cases
Title Patent No. Inventors
Bit Cell With Double Patterned Metal Layer Structures US 8,823,178 Juhan Kim, Mahbub Rashed
Semiconductor device with transistor local interconnects US 8,581,348 Mahbub Rashed, Steven Soss, Jongwook Kye, Irene Y. Lin, James Benjamin Gullette, Chinh Nguyen, Jeff Kim, Marc Tarabbia, Yuansheng Ma, Yunfei Deng, Rod Augur, Seung-Hyun Rhee, Scott Johnson, Subramani KengeriSuresh Venkatesan
Semiconductor device with transistor local interconnects US 9,355,910 Mahbub Rashed, Irene Y. Lin, Steven Soss, Jeff Kim, Chinh Nguyen, Marc Tarabbia, Scott Johnson, Subramani Kengeri, Suresh Venkatesan
Introduction of metal impurity to change workfunction of conductive electrodes US 7,425,497 Michael P. Chudzik, Bruce B. Doris, Supratik Guha, Rajarao Jammy, Vijay Narayanan, Vamsi K. Paruchuri, Yun Y. Wang,Keith Kwong Hon Wong
Semiconductor device having contact layer providing electrical connections US 8,598,633 Marc Tarabbia, James B. Gullette, Mahbub RashedDavid S. Doman, Irene Y. Lin, Ingolf Lorenz, Larry Ho, Chinh Nguyen, Jeff Kim, Jongwook Kye, Yuansheng MaYunfei Deng, Rod Augur, Seung-Hyun Rhee, Jason E. Stephens, Scott Johnson, Subramani Kengeri, Suresh Venkatesan
Method of forming a metal or metal nitride interface layer between silicon nitride and copper US 6,518,167 Lu You, Matthew S. Buynoski, Paul R. Besser, Jeremias D. Romero, Pin-Chin, Connie Wang, Minh Q. Tran
Structures of and methods and tools for forming in-situ metallic/dielectric caps for interconnects US 8,039,966 Chih-Chao Yang, Chao-Kun Hu
Introduction of metal impurity to change workfunction of conductive electrodes US 7,750,418 Michael P. Chudzik, Bruce B. Doris, Supratik Guha, Rajarao Jammy, Vijay Narayanan, Vamsi K. Paruchuri, Yun Y. Wang, Keith Kwong Hon Wong
Methods of forming FinFET devices with a shared gate structure US 8,936,986 Andy C. Wei, Dae Geun Yang
Semiconductor device with stressed fin sections US 8,912,603 Scott Luning, Frank Scott Johnson
Multiple dielectric FinFET structure and method US 7,378,357 William F. Clark, Jr., Edward J. Nowak
Bit cell with double patterned metal layer structures US 9,105,643 Juhan Kim, Mahbub Rashed
Complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) device having gate structures connected by a metal gate conductor US 9,082,877 Yue Liang, Dureseti Chidambarrao, Brian J. Greene, William K. Henson, Unoh Kwon, Shreesh Narasimha, and Xiaojun Yu
Hybrid contact structure with low aspect ratio contacts in a semiconductor device DE 102011002769 Kai Frohberg, Ralf Richter
Complementary transistors comprising high-k metal gate electrode structures and epitaxially formed semiconductor materials in the drain and source areas DE 102011004320 Gunda Beernink, Markus Lenski
Semiconductor device with transistor local interconnects DE 102012219375 Mahbub Rashed, Irene Y. Lin, Steven Soss, Jeff Kim, Chinh Nguyen, Marc Tarabbia, Scott Johnson, Subramani Kengeri, Suresh Venkatesan

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Source: GlobalFoundries

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  • Eliadbu - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Did you know that Global foundries 14 nm is a licensed Samsung manufacturing processes? Also their 12nm is based on that process
    https://www.globalfoundries.com/news-events/press-...
    Reply
  • DefeatedGoat - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Common Platform Node. Reply
  • ilt24 - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    @eek2121 ... "It only uses GlobalFoundries for the I/O dies of it's server processors and any other 14nm (like budget graphics cards) products it has. "

    The new desktop Ryzen chips are also based on TSMC 7nm CPU chiplets and a GF 14nm I/O chiplet, so for this generation of desktop and server chips GF is still a major player.
    Reply
  • ERobert - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    This remember me a Unix verdor (SCO) who sued IBM and other Linux vendors instead of innovating. We all know the end. Actually, I think that Samsung or TSMC have to buy GloFo, or it will dissapear in 3-4 years. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Having given up on new mainstream processes GloFo's fab business has entered terminal decline. They're trying to keep something going with specialty processes; but when something like 90% of their output went to AMD and AMD is taking its core businesses to companies who're still making denser logic a largescale implosion is inevitable even if a small rump company is commercially viable. Reply
  • levizx - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Nope, GloFo licensed their latest process from Samsung, with no 7nm plans. It's very unlikely GloFo+Samsung would still infringe TSMC's patents. Reply
  • twotwotwo - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Seems awful for the semiconductor industry. Processes are so complex, and fabs' goals are so similar, that every large fab must be doing many, many things invented at other large fabs.

    Similar situation for software, especially given that the system allows patenting way too much, but there seems to be a no-first-use-of-our-weapons equilibrium among large tech companies there. I don't care *too* much if this means some large corporations pay each other settlements, but if it holds the industry back, ugh.
    Reply
  • sing_electric - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    "In particular, the company claims that TSMC’s 7 nm, 10 nm, 12 nm, 16 nm, and 28 nm nodes use its intellectual property."

    Well, I guess we found out how GloFo's new overlords plan to monetize their investments in 7nm, even after cancelling it...

    I have no idea if this suit has any merit, but the fact that it's happening only *after* the company dropped out of the leading-edge process race makes me a little skeptical. The worst-case scenario is that GloFo was purchased to live on as a zombie company, making fewer and fewer chips each year while becoming ammunition for patent trolling.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    I guess the thing to watch is if these claims are amended to include 5 nm production once TSMC starts shipping those.

    The specialty process market did have some benefits for them as it looks like they are still the leading manufacturer for the Trusted Foundry program since IBM sold their fabs to them. This is also why I don't see them starting off with the plan to be a zombie company whose road map intentially lead to this. I suspect that there was genuine sincerity to scale past 12 nm on their road maps and simply couldn't keep pace (plan A) and they must have some issues with their current strategy of specialized processes (plan B) so that they have to go in this direction (plan C).
    Reply
  • eek2121 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Except for the problem that it doesn't make money. Or not a lot of it at any rate. Reply

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