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

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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  • Korguz - Thursday, August 29, 2019 - link

    i think phynaz and hstewart... are twins.. or at the least, brothers.. with the former.. being the younger, immature of the two
  • eastcoast_pete - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Unlike some others here, I am not sure that this is just empty posturing by GloFo. In some ways, it makes sense for them to sue TSMC and TSMC customers now that they are getting out of the SoC and general fabbing business. Prior to that move, GloFo would have ended up suing several of their own customers, which is quite awkward and bad for business. Now that they are exiting the general fab business, GloFo has much less to loose on that side, and a lot (of money) to gain. That being said, it would be a miracle if TSMC doesn't countersue. And, even though those lawsuits cost a lot, it's still peanuts compared to the costs for a single fab.
  • Vitor - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    I'm against IP, i dont believe copying concepts and ideal violates any real property rights. But reducing patent duration from the current 20/25 years to 7/8 years would make me happy enough.
  • Oxford Guy - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Copyright and patents are a great thing, probably absolutely necessary in a "capitalist" system, but durations have been extended, especially with copyright.

    Copyright went from being a great policy to being a damaging one with that change.

    I think the original copyright term was 14 years but it may have been less in the planning stages or something, possibly as few as 7. Now, it's absolutely insane.

    Research has found, as I recall, that less than 10 years is all that's needed for individuals to maximize their benefit with copyright in a manner that balances social benefit, perhaps as few as 5 or 6. I don't recall. That period is when the maximum profit goes to the individual responsible for creating it, while also not making the product unduly parasitic (an IP drain) on society.

    The thing that's missing when Congress extends things like copyright and patents (and when governments conspire to increase the draconianness of penalties to ordinary individuals) is the balance between what's good for the society and what's good for the individual creator(s). Congress and governments in general, unfortunately, don't work for ordinary individuals. They work for the wealthy and many of them are the wealthy themselves. All IP innovation rests on prior work. None of it springs from nothingness. When IP protection extensions are too long they impede further innovation. It's an added layer of inefficiency (graft). Excessive IP protection lengths are just one of the ways governments protect the privileged lifestyles of the existing wealthy, at the expense of meritocracy.
  • Santoval - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    "Research has found, as I recall, that less than 10 years is all that's needed for individuals to maximize their benefit with copyright in a manner that balances social benefit, perhaps as few as 5 or 6. I don't recall. That period is when the maximum profit goes to the individual responsible for creating it, while also not making the product unduly parasitic (an IP drain) on society."

    You must be joking right? With a 5 to 10 years copyright length how would the "estates" and "foundations" of Tolkien (who just pocketed hundreds of millions from Amazon), Anne Frank (the copyright of her "Diary" lapsed in 2016, after her foundation tried -and failed- to extend its copyright another ... 35 years), George Orwell (next year in the public domain - apparently) and many many others make monies?

    It's not just the original creator who needs to make money from his work. It's also his/her children, grandchildren, and if possible great-grandchildren and further. How are all these people going to live? They are the progeny of Hemingway, Tolkien, Sartre, Camus and Salinger, so you don't actually expect them to, er, work, are you?
  • GeoffreyA - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    Great sentiment, sir. I can't even begin to tell you how much I sigh when I see Lord of the Rings (among others) still isn't in the public's hands.
  • Vitor - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    Granting monopolies is not necessary at all, and that is all patents do. When people are free to use and improve on other people ideas, innovation can happen organically.

    And there is also the problem that real property rights should not have ad hoc time limits. If it does, then it is not real property rights based on logical arguments regarding scarcity. Nobody will stop having ideas and applying to products and services because the state wont grant temporal monopolies by threating other people real property (like money) for applying the idea without "permission".

    Also there is the whole issue of no idea/mechanism being truly original, there is always inspiration from something done before and plenty of colaboration thru life. There is nothign ethical about using the initiation of violence by the state against people applying your ideas in something else.

    Not necessary at all for free markets, but for corporativism it sure is quite necessary. We witness every yeah billions wasted on courts over redudant patents just to inhibit competition.
  • rrinker - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    That's a wonderful sentiment, but riddle me this. I can get that you might stretch and say there's no reason for a corporation to have exclusive access to something, after all, they are plenty "wealthy". But what about the individual? What if I, or maybe I and a friend, spend 10 years of our lives creating something new, what do we get if the instant we show it to the public, anyone can freely do what they want with out idea? Why should we create anything? Simply because being a creator makes us feel good? The problem is with how long it's been allowed to extend these protections. Which of course directly benefits a corporation because they tend to outlive any one individual.
    I DO release free hardware designs and software in my hobby. Mainly because I have no desire to start a business building what I am making for my own personal use - it then ceases to become a hobby if I do, and because there's nothing particularly unique or innovative with my designs. So I'm not doing this to earn a living. I have a day job for that. But if I were attempting to create something to make a living from, I'd want at least a chance to get started before the vultures swoop in.
  • Santoval - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Most of these patents appear to be very generic or self-evident. There is simply no way Intel and Samsung do not employ the essential techniques these patents supposedly "protect", however they were not sued. I wonder why... Have they licensed these patents from GloFo? I *strongly* doubt that.
    One of the patents weirdly has two extra copies, one for the US and one for Germany. Two other patents have an extra US copy (I frankly don't get what's going on with the USPTO...) Did GloFo run out of patents to list?

    I also do not understand why they are suing chip designers, OEMs and even distributors. Why widen their legal net in such an absurd way? I get that times are tough for GloFo but attempts at revenue from litigation over revenue from innovation rarely work. Either innovate or shut down your shop, this kind of theatrics is pathetic..
  • Eliadbu - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    GF can't make the cut. They had fallen behind and have decided to close most of the operations and development, and focus on niche markets that doubtfully will make any significant profits now that rivals from Chinese and other countries get to the technology they manufacture on. So they take the easy route and try to extort money by "legal" ways. I also doubt how much of their current tech is theirs given the fact it is based on a manufacturing process that samsung licensed them. Also their are western company as much as the fuel you pump into your car that is refined from Arab oil.

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