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AMD and Nvidia Chip-Maker TSMC Countersues GlobalFoundries for Patent Infringement

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In a move surprising to no one, chip-maker TSMC, which fabs silicon for AMD, Nvidia, and Apple (among others), has countersued GlobalFoundries for infringement of 25 of its patents.

TSMC's lawsuit, which it lodged in the U.S., Germany, and Singapore, comes on the heels of GlobalFoundries suit against the company that seeks to ban imports of Nvidia and Apple chips, but leaves AMD out of the fray. Those suits target TSMCs customers, as opposed to the foundry itself, for violating patents related to five technology nodes.

The intensifying legal battle between the two fabs could leave AMD caught in the crossfire because it relies upon chips that come from both foundries for its EPYC Rome and Ryzen 3000 series processors.

TSMC's countersuit is surprising in its breadth: The company claims GlobalFoundries is the primary infringer, citing 25 patents related to the firms' 40nm, 28nm, 22nm, 14nm, and 12nm nodes. TSMC seeks undefined monetary damages for the infringement.

GlobalFoundries responded quickly, providing Tom's Hardware with the following statement:

"TSMC has long used its dominant market position to exert pressure on its smaller competitors, and the retaliatory litigation filed today is in keeping with that history. We have confidence in our position and the legal process, and we are not intimidated by these actions." -Sam Azar, senior vice president of Corporate Development, Legal and Government Affairs for GF

TSMC seeks to halt GlobalFoundries' production and sale of the impacted process nodes due to the purported infringement of a "diverse set of technologies, including FinFET designs, shallow trench isolation techniques, double patterning methods, advanced seal rings, and gate structures, and innovative contact etch stop layer designs." TSMC also cites that it has 37,000 patents in its war chest, so it's logical to assume the company could up the ante as the legal battle intensifies.

Both companies supply AMD with wafers for its Ryzen and EPYC processors, meaning the company could inevitably be caught in the crossfire. GlobalFoundries has left AMD out of its round of patent infringement claims, likely in a bid to reduce exposure for one of its primary customers, while TSMC's lawsuit is broad enough to impact AMD. 

Other companies, such as Apple and Nvidia, are clients of TSMC, which is the world's largest third-party silicon vendor. That means the legal salvos between the two companies could have a massive impact on the global supply of semiconductors, which is already facing a squeeze as TSMC and Intel grapple with unprecedented demand. Speaking of Intel, the company is completely insulated from the brouhaha because it controls its own fabs and has a significant patent war chest of its own. 

We expect to learn more as TSMC and GlobalFoundries trade blows, and will update as necessary.