Lawsuit against TSMC could block new devices from entering US

Graphic representing Apple's A12 Bionic chip.

Apple’s A12 Bionic is one of the many chips manufactured by TSMC. 


GlobalFoundries, a US-based semiconductor foundry, is suing chip giant Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company over patent infringement. It claims that TSMC has violated 16 of its patents and is looking to block devices that have the offending technology from entering the US and Germany. 

While not widely known to US consumers, TSMC-made chips can be found in a host of consumer electronics from the likes of Apple, Qualcomm, Google, OnePlus, TCL, Lenovo and Motorola

Companies like Apple and Qualcomm design their own processors — such as Apple’s latest A12 Bionic and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 — but TSMC does the actual manufacturing of the alleged infringing chips, which then make their way into devices such as the iPhone XS and Google Pixel 3. 

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A total of 20 companies are listed as defendants in GlobalFoundry’s lawsuits, which were filed Monday with the US International Trade Commission, the US federal district courts in the District of Delaware and the Western District of Texas, and the regional courts of Dusseldorf and Mannheim in Germany. 

In addition to looking to block the import of products that have chips that allegedly infringe on its patents, the company says it is seeking “significant damages from TSMC based on TSMC’s unlawful use of GF’s proprietary technology in its tens of billions of dollars of sales.” 

“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 in the last decade in the US 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 of engineering and technology at GlobalFoundries. 

“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 a statement on Tuesday, TSMC said it’s still reviewing the complaint but is confident the allegations are baseless. 

“TSMC is proud of its technology leadership, manufacturing excellence, and unwavering commitment to customers,” the company said in a release. “We will fight vigorously, using any and all options, to protect our proprietary technologies.”

Originally published Aug. 26.
Update, Aug. 27: Adds statement from TSMC.