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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  • Eliadbu - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    They had a plan it was Called EUV the issue is EUV is very expensive for manufacturing (low volumes very high operation costs and other constraints). They took the bet way too early and when it was time to start volume production they understood that they took the wrong bet, all other leading manufacturers still use DUV multi patterning with probably TSMC is starting EUV this year but even then they will use in conjunction with DUV. TSMC would succeed since
    a) they are not a failing company like GF.
    b) they have much more resources in R&D with teams that have much more success in process development.
    c) they have much deeper pockets and market capitalization enabling them to take those big projects even tough the initial cost might not lead to any profits.
  • azfacea - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    complete scam. the story stinks from top to bottom. the claim start out with dog whistle politics "we are investing in US and EU" as if that has any relevance to whether TSMC has stolen anything.

    90% of these patents are just stating new problems faced in a new node and global foundries has always been 1 to 2 nodes behind TSMC, their "14nm" node is licensed from samsung because they couldnt do it even years behind. For every GloFo patent TSMC has 10 patents but they are hoping "texas west district" wont care thanks to their dog whistles.

    This is an insult to human intelligence and attack on technological progress with big consequences for the whole world. fucking sub humans at glofo were never planning to transition it to a "specialty manufacturer" they were liquidating to make it a patent troll
  • boeush - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Oh noes, what a disaster it would be if companies had to pay each other (cross-)license fees for use of patented inventions. What an "insult to human intelligence"....
  • eek2121 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Except GloFo isn't doing this for cross patent licensing, they are doing this for money. You don't make money by cross-licensing patents. While other companies (such as Apple) have settled suits by cross-licensing in the past, the reality of it is that GlobalFoundries is not competitive at this point and is far behind the competition.
  • azfacea - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    cross license what u meathead? TSMC is not litigating GloFo and GloFo is liquidating itself.

  • Santoval - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    Cross-licensing of patents by definition does not involve paying or exchanging fees, which is why it is the preferred option (unless of course company X has a patent pool of 15 patents and cross-licenses it with company Y, who has a patent pool of 10 patents. Assuming all patents have equal value then company X could get a fee for their 5 extra patents).
  • melgross - Tuesday, August 27, 2019 - link

    Do you understand what’s going on here? GF likely had scads of engineers and lawyers scouring patents and announced technologies to find something they could sue over as they see their business sinking.

    They aren’t interested in cross licensing, because they are so behind every major maker that they have little to license. They are leaking customers. Once AMD completely weans themselves off GF they will have no large, reliable, customer left. And we all know what happens then.
  • limitedaccess - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    What's interesting about this is that TSMC filed suit and won previously against a former employee for leaking trade secrets that helped Samsung with their 14nm process. GF 14nm process is licensed from Samsung.

    Also related is the above former employee later jumped ship from Samsung to SMIC. SMIC in turn now also has a 14nm process.
  • eek2121 - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    While your comment lacks sources, very interesting if true. However, one very big issue I have about suing former employees is where the line is drawn in the sand. I arguably know more as an engineer now than I did 3 years ago, and much of that knowledge was picked up working for various companies. I even worked at 2 similar, somewhat competing companies and did similar things. While obvious knowledge, such as sharing client info, etc. shouldn't be allowed, what about general or industry specific knowledge? Where do you draw the line? I'm worried that one day courts will take it too far and it will hurt engineers when it comes to employment opportunities.

    One of the reasons non-competes aren't enforceable in states like California is because a competitor can, and will bid on key employees. Companies themselves have tried to sign hush agreements to stop this from happening, and even that got shot down in courts. This means that a high level engineer at Intel can move to AMD or NVIDIA and vice versa. Sometimes patent suits like this spring up as a result.

    Coincidentally, this is one of the reasons that software patents should not be allowed. When you can start patenting algorithms (Keep in mind, I know of no major case regarding this, Google's case was a bit more specific) then some of the more common algorithms will end up getting patented, and then nobody can write code anymore.

    This brings me to my other point. Patents like the ones described above aren't 'inventions' by GloFo. GloFo didn't exist a couple decades ago. Ironically, it's doubtful they will exist a couple decades from now. Unless they are making a secret play on 7nm and are being blocked by patents from TSMC, this is purely a lawsuit to attempt to extract cash from a competitor, nothing more.
  • limitedaccess - Monday, August 26, 2019 - link

    I didn't post initial sources because the stuff I mentioned, aside from what actually happened behind the scenes (obviously), since it was all publicly reported and searchable but I listed some below for posterity.

    Obviously we can't know how much of lack of shady stuff actually occurred. It's still an interesting sequence of events though -

    Samsung 14nm jump after hiring Liam Mong-Song (former TSMC employee) -

    TSMC win suit against former employee -

    GF licenses Samsung 14nm -

    Liang Mong-Song joins SMIC -

    SMIC announces 14nm risk production -

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