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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  • HStewart - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    I would think your are correct on this, Intel and Samsung likely use different technologies but it is interesting that others are start using 3d technology - but high tech companies do like switch employees back and forth so there is likely could be problem with technology leaks.
  • Zoolook13 - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    I'm sure they have a cross licensing deal with Samsung since their 14/12 nm process is an adapted Samsung process.
    Regarding the patents, it's 10 years since they were spun off from AMD, most of the AMD-patents are old, many about to or has expired, did you think they stopped developing and patenting after they were spun off ?
  • FullmetalTitan - Wednesday, August 28, 2019 - link

    They wouldn't want to rock the boat with Samsung, as they licensed their 14LPP process and the GloFlo 12LP process evolved from that, seeing as GloFlo plans to continue profiting from that technology in addition to specialty parts like FDSOI and RF processes.
    Also, Samsung builds their own chips, so they have never been a client of TSMC.
  • levizx - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Bad business decisions? Do you even have any ideas why GloFo scrapped 7nm? To put it simple, they don't have the money to build another fab, so in turn their 7nm will be solely reliant on existing fabs which must also produce 14/12nm as well. They won't ever get more than 10% of Samsung/TSMC's volume, so how do you propose they get their R&D money back while remaining competitive?
  • Kvaern1 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    What I find interersting is that all of AMD's and IBM's business combined (which Glofo had) apparently isn't enough to finance development of upto date process nodes anymore.
  • levizx - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Why do you find it interesting? IBM gave GloFo money to take their fabs which didn't have much volume in the first place. Expecting anything other than even combined they won't have a tiny fraction of what Samsung and TSMC's volume, therefore not able to support R&D is very much delusional.
  • quadibloc - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    No, it isn't. And pretty soon Samsung will drop out of the race too. It will be just TSMC and Intel, and maybe not both of them for very long. New process nodes are just getting ridiculously expensive. Moores' Law's days are numbered. But it's got a while to go yet.
  • Zoolook13 - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    Samsungs memory business alone is bigger than TSMC, I doubt they are dropping out.
  • Threska - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    Agreed. I think people forget that semiconductors isn't JUST microprocessors. Not everything needs the push towards 7 nm.
  • MandiEd - Saturday, August 31, 2019 - link

    Why would they Samsung drop out when their memory division is generating considerably more sales than TSM and Samsung can consolidate the second place just sticking around?

    In fact, there will be more players in the future as the market demands at least one or two alternatives to TSM and SMIC will eventually catch up with others as they are backed by ambitious Chinese government.

    SK Hynix's revenue is comparable with TSM and they are also planning to have a go at Foundry Business. Hell, even Intel may want to try it again.

    The problem is that TSM is still a contract manufacturer and its customers can switch to other companies while Intel and Samsung have their products for their fabs.

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