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TSMC and GlobalFoundries kiss, make up, and promise to share patents for 10 years

TSMC wafer

TSMC and GlobalFoundries have taken their respective fingers off the semiconductor armageddon button and cancelled all their existing litigation of each other. That means Jen-Hsun can breathe a sigh of relief as Nvidia goodies are still going to be allowed to go on sale around the world, something GlobalFoundries was originally looking to nix.

That’s great news for the industry because if the two contract semiconductor manufacturers had tied themselves up in legal wranglings for the next few years that would have had a massive impact on the technology market. TSMC produces a huge amount of the silicon that goes into our gaming PCs, including Nvidia GPUs and all of AMD’s 7nm tech, and if it was going to find itself blocked off in certain key markets, such as the US and Germany, then things would get rather messy. Though, interestingly, AMD was never mentioned in any of the legal proceedings.

But the really weird thing is that the settlement the two companies have come to essentially means they’re cross-licensing their global semiconductor patents and any patent filed over the next ten years. Basically, it kinda looks like GF and TSMC have joined forces, almost pooling their respective R&D resources.

At the end of August GlobalFoundries wound up the semiconductor doomsday clock by bringing litigation against TSMC for infringing 18 different manufacturing patents, and included the likes of Nvidia and Apple as defendants in the case. The predictable response from TSMC was to counter-sue, alleging that GlobalFoundries was infringing on 25 of its own manufacturing patents, and that it had a whole lot more patents in its back pocket it could add in to the mix too.

AMD Ryzen 3000 CPU

The tit-for-tech litigation was expected to have wide ramifications for the industry, especially if GF had managed to partially win its legal dispute and halt the sale and distribution of Nvidia and Apple products in the US. But even so, with TSMC launching its own legal disputes the expected hearings, and postponements, and appeals would potentially have the industry in a stalemate that it wouldn’t recover from until beyond 2020.

And neither TSMC or GlobalFoundries would benefit from that situation. In fact I think probably only Samsung and Intel would be the ones to come out of that particular nuclear winter smelling pretty.

Thankfully the prospect of semiconductor armageddon and TSMC and GloFo’s mutually assured destruction has now been averted, but in a way that seems to bring the two manufacturers closer than ever. It’s possible they each decided their technologies were so heavily intertwined that they ought to just become friends and work together.

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“The companies have agreed to a broad life-of-patents cross-license to each other’s worldwide existing semiconductor patents,” reads the TSMC press release, “as well as those patents that will be filed during the next ten years as both companies continue to invest significantly in semiconductor research and development.

“This resolution guarantees TSMC and GF freedom to operate and ensures that their respective customers will continue to have access to each foundry’s complete array of technologies and services.”

It’s not the outcome many would have expected, but it’s great news for an industry that needs TSMC and GlobalFoundries to keep on investing their hard-earned cash into semiconductor development. Y’know, so we can keep getting shiny new graphics cards and processors. And some people want new phones too.

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