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US chipmaker Globalfoundries sues Taiwanese rival on patents

San Francisco

ONE of the biggest semiconductor makers in the United States on Monday initiated a broad legal attack on Taiwan's dominant chip manufacturer, the latest twist in a complex geopolitical battle over electronic components that could affect big chip users such as Apple and Google.

Globalfoundries, which runs former IBM chip factories in New York state and Vermont but is owned by an Abu Dhabi investment firm, filed a series of suits accusing the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co of infringing 16 patents covering processes used in manufacturing computer chips.

The suits were filed in two federal courts in the United States and two German courts. Globalfoundries also complained to the US International Trade Commission.

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In addition, the suits name a number of companies that either design chips manufactured by TSMC or use chips manufactured by that company in devices such as smartphones and networking equipment. Those defendants include Apple, Google, Qualcomm, Cisco Systems, Nvidia, Broadcom, Xilinx, Lenovo and Motorola.

One Globalfoundries trade commission complaint said a series of products that use chips built by TSMC, including Apple's iPhone XS, iPhone 7, Airpods, Watch 4, TV 4K and iPad mini, should be excluded from import to the United States.

Globalfoundries' surprise move underscores the electronics industry's overwhelming reliance on TSMC, a large manufacturer of chips designed by other companies. The Taiwanese company accounts for nearly 50 per cent of the market for outsourced chip production, the market research firm TrendForce estimates.

Globalfoundries claims the TSMC share of production of the most advanced chips is nearly 90 per cent.

Reliance on foreign manufacturers has worried Defense Department officials who are concerned about trusted sources of components for advanced weapons and intelligence-gathering systems.

Globalfoundries, though it has been setting up manufacturing facilities of its own in China, said in its trade commission complaint that TSMC recently completed construction on an advanced chip plant in that country that rides "the shift in global supply chains out of the US and Europe into Greater China."

TSMC officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The other defendants, including Apple, either declined to comment or could not be immediately reached. NYTIMES