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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  • melgross - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    It’s a fine line. But if an engineer takes technology learned at an employer that is proprietary, it’s illegal, as it should be. Proving that is difficult. But if a company that’s been struggling with something suddenly has a process or product, after hiring said engineer away from a company with a successful process or product, suspicions are warranted. Reply
  • mikato - Wednesday, August 28, 2019 - link

    "Coincidentally, this is one of the reasons that software patents should not be allowed. When you can start patenting algorithms [...] then some of the more common algorithms will end up getting patented"

    That wouldn't happen. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patentable_subject_m...
    Reply
  • ksec - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    And there is a very high likely hood GF also infringe on TSMC's patents.

    It is also only a matter of time before AMD moves their I/O and APU to TSMC as well. Right now AMD is merely trying finish their WSA quota as soon as possible. And judging from the sales of Zen 2, this might be ending earlier than expected. And that is the only tactics they came up with.
    Reply
  • levizx - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Earlier? You obviously don't understand how fixed-term works. Reply
  • ksec - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    Fixed Term? You obviously don't understand it is the Wafer Quantity that matters. Reply
  • Teckk - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    So they've stopped development of 7nm but they know TSMC has infringed on that?
    And 28nm was out from so long, why did it take them so long to act on it?
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    I see GF has subscribed to the "If you can't innovate, litigate" philosophy. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Minor correction, "...potential damages seeked by GlobalFoundries may..."

    Replace "seeked" with "sought" and it should sound a bit better.

    As for the actual lawsuit, eh whatever. Companies sue each other regularly. Those cases rarely have a meaningful impact on consumers.
    Reply
  • Oxford Guy - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    I love seeing people post, based on pure speculation, "facts" aplenty.

    I think it's safe to say that not one person in the comments here has a clue about the merits and demerits of this case.

    Plus, if you think patents are bad... try copyright. You can thank Sonny Bono and the rest of Congress for that.
    Reply
  • rrinker - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    And Disney. They'll do anything to keep Mickey Mouse from falling into the public domain no matter how long Walt is dead. Or frozen. It's absolutely disgusting. Reply

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