GlobalFoundries sues TSMC and 20 companies to block chip shipments to the US and Germany
SoC’s, or System-on-a-Chip, form the brains of a smartphone, directly dictating the capabilities, power, and features of the smartphone. SoCs are at the forefront of the smartphone upgrade cycle, as OEM refresh cycles are dependent on new features being brought over by the advancement to the SoC. While companies like Qualcomm design their own SoCs and spend millions on R&D, the actual manufacturing is orchestrated by a semiconductor foundry like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). Another semiconductor foundry, GlobalFoundries has now filed lawsuits against TSMC and named 20 other defendants in the USA and Germany, alleging TSMC of patent infringement.
The primary subject matter in the multiple lawsuits filed by GlobalFoundries alleges that TSMC has infringed upon as many as 16 of its patents across different aspects of chip manufacturing, including the ones involving 7nm, 10nm, 12nm, 16nm, and 28nm manufacturing nodes. Since TSMC is based in Taiwan and hence outside of the jurisdiction of USA and Germany, the lawsuits have named 20 customers of TSMC as defendants towards the same:
- Foundry: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Ltd. (TSMC)
- Fabless chip designers: Apple, Broadcom, Mediatek, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Xilinx
- Electronic component distributors: Avnet/EBV, Digi-key, Mouser
- Consumer product: Arista, ASUS, BLU, Cisco, Google, HiSense, Lenovo, Motorola, TCL, OnePlus
These customers import chips made by TSMC into the jurisdiction areas for further use and subsequent sale within finished products. The damages claimed in the lawsuit could reach billions of dollars as the alleged infringement took place on processes that contributed to more than half of TSMC’s revenue. The pleas from GlobalFoundries also include a request to the Courts to ban the shipments of products that use these semiconductors that allegedly infringe the patents, into the USA and Germany separately. If the Courts do decide to grant the injunction on a prima-facie case, this could halt the import of a whole range of electronics ranging from smartphones from Apple, Google, OnePlus and various other smartphones that use Qualcomm SoCs made by TSMC, and even routers and graphics cards.
GlobalFoundries issued the following statement in connection with these lawsuits:
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,” said Gregg Bartlett, senior vice president, engineering and technology at GF. “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.
In response, TSMC has issued the following statement:
TSMC is in the process of reviewing the complaints filed by GlobalFoundries on August 26, but is confident that GlobalFoundries’ allegations are baseless. As a leading innovator, TSMC invests billions of dollars each year to independently develop its world-class, leading-edge semiconductor manufacturing technologies. As a result, TSMC has established one of the largest semiconductor portfolios with more than 37,000 patents worldwide and a top 10 ranking for US patent grants for 3 consecutive years since 2016. We are disappointed to see a foundry peer resort to meritless lawsuits instead of competing in the marketplace with technology. TSMC is proud of its technology leadership, manufacturing excellence, and unwavering commitment to customers. We will fight vigorously, using any and all options, to protect our proprietary technologies.
While we do not comment on the merits of the lawsuit as we do not properly understand the entire scope of these patents and the alleged infringement, one thing is clear — if GlobalFoundries does win this lawsuit, one can expect the technology landscape to shift in a major way.