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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  • quadibloc - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    Well, AMD happens to be their biggest customer. If AMD can't get the TSMC processor chips for their Ryzen processors, it won't buy the Global Foundries chips that let them talk to the world. So they're blocking the TSMC sales that don't shoot themselves in the foot.
  • baka_toroi - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Isn't it very likely TSMC has another set of patents which GlobalFoundries is infringing? Sounds like a foolish move on their part.
  • Andy Chow - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Given that GloFo cancelled their 7nm a year ago, and decided it was time to "stop investing and start being profitable", my guess is that they are on the verge of collapsing and are desperate. AMD is still buying some chips from GloFo, until 2021. I seriously doubt that GloFo will still be around in a decade from now.
  • rrinker - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Also what I like to call "Innovation by litigation". Most famous pioneer I can think of in more recent years was Netscape.
  • Arsenica - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    As GF is far from being a "non-practicing entity" (a.k.a patent troll) TSMC is almost certain to sue them back.

    So unless this is some Apple-Qualcomm style negotiation-by-lawsuit (as in GF wanting to be bought by TSMC) GF is definitely going to end up worse than it is right now.
  • eek2121 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    This sounds more like a move made out of desperation. AMD has started using TSMC for the majority of it's products. 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. GlobalFoundries has very few large customers to keep it afloat, and when AMD's contract finally ends, they will be ditching GlobalFoundries in short order. GloFo should have worked on rolling out 7nm instead of pausing to catch a breath. You either compete or die in any market, especially in the silicon industry.
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    They didn't pause, they threw in the towel. There will never be a GLOFO 10nm, or 7nm, or etc process. They've given up on everything but specialized processes where ever smaller transistors isn't the primary measure of success. But since selling that sort of process to AMD was the vast majority of their business, they've been in mass selloff of assets mode ever since.

    Apparently no one wanted to pay enough for their patent portfolio (probably because after seeing their customers mutual destruction a few years back none of the other major fabs thought they'd be worth much in trying to get marginally better cross licensing terms, and having been badly burned the trolls were taking a pause) so they're YOLOing a lawsuit in desperation.
  • DefeatedGoat - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    GlobalFoundries can keep itself afloat with 22FDX(UTBB FDSOI) and 45RF(PDSOI)/45RFe(FDSOI). Which probably combined has more customers than 28nm/14nm/12nm at GloFo.
  • azfacea - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    not true. 14/12nm wafers are the bulk of their revenues. and their prices are collapsing. glofo is done. less than 25% of the workforce will be there in 5 years. but now it looks like they are planning to keep just a few dozen lawyers and transform it into a patent troll
  • DefeatedGoat - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    I have not seen one GlobalFoundries slide stating that their 14nm/12nm wafers were the bulk of revenues. 80% of GloFo revenue is from processes greater than 14nm/12nm.

    This in fact circulated at GlobalFoundries:

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