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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  • FreckledTrout - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    As someone that lives in Texas I know the case is valid if it starts in "Western District of Texas". /s
  • Samus - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    It's an Austin based motion, likely in an attempt to get a court with a better understanding of semiconductors.
  • CajunArson - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Actually the *Eastern* district of Texas in Tyler is known as the patent troll capital of the world.
    So the Western district is a little more unusual.
  • sing_electric - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Western includes Austin, which obviously has a long history in semiconductors, which might be a factor. In a lot of industries, the suit's filed where the lawyers are, and the lawyers are where the business has been. (It also avoids having the suit in California, where it'd likely be either in the back yard of Qualcomm or GloFo's HQs.)
  • eek2121 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    You are partially correct, but to clarify, the lawsuit has to be filed in the jurisdiction the defendant is in or in a location that it has a physical presence.

    That being said, interesting that AMD wasn't named. GlobalFoundries made some bad business decisions (they scrapped 7nm among other things) and now they are attempting to sue others because those decisions are hurting them from a revenue standpoint. This will only hurt them in the end honestly, even if they win the case.
  • extide - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    AMD probably has cross parenting agreements for pretty much all of GF's patents so it's not surprising at all that AMD wasn't named.
  • eek2121 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    I suspect the only reason why AMD wasn't named is they are, for a bit longer, a GloFo customer, and GloFo leadership already sees the writing on the wall with regards to that contract coming to an end thanks to it cancelling 7nm. I've worked with key executives in the past who act in this way. It never works out the way it's planned. Once people know you are sue happy (and I have some experience in this area), they want nothing to do with you. TSMC will likely counter-sue at any rate.

    If GloFo were 'confident' in their patents, they'd go after Intel or Samsung. Why did they choose TSMC specifically? TSMC is stealing their business. If I were the CEO of any company that depends on these fabs, I wouldn't touch GloFo with a 10-foot pole right now.

    One question I had is why did AMD give these patents to them anyway? If i were AMD I would have created a licensing agreement. If AMD ever enters the fab business again, they will need to license those patents back. Even if that is unlikely, closing doors to the future isn't something that you should do. I'm sure they could have sold GloFo for just as much with a perpetual license with a contract dictating that terms don't change.
  • ilt24 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    @eek2121 ... "One question I had is why did AMD give these patents to them anyway?"

    Because they were a big part of what the boys from Abu Dhabi wanted in buying AMD's manufacturing assets. Note in total Globalfoundries has manufacturing patents acquired from AMD, Chartered and IBM.

    I'm curious what direction Globalfoundires really thinks this will go. TSMC has a boat load of patents and will surly find a bunch Globalfoundries is stepping on and counter sue.

    I worked for Digital's semiconductor division when they sued about the same time they put the division up for sale. Intel then counter sued Digital and the two companies settled with Intel buying basically everything other than their Alpha processor. Maybe the owners of Globalfoundries are also looking for a way want out.
  • s.yu - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Why isn't HiSlicon on the list? So the patents were used to make Apple's, Qualcomm's, and MediaTek's, yet not HiSilicon's?
    Despite the minimal effect of a further ban to Huawei shipments to the US, Germany remains a major market.
  • quadibloc - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    Maybe they're confident in their patents, but Intel and Samsung are using different technology? And when AMD let go of Global Foundries, it got cash for it from investors - they wouldn't have paid as much for a foundry that didn't own its own patent portfolio, if the sale would even have happened.

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