An unexpected conflict is rocking the US semiconductor industry. And it is that three of its largest companies, Intel, IBM and GlobalFoundries (GF), they hold a grudge which in all probability will give a lot to talk about in the coming weeks. A full blown soap opera. To understand what happened we have to go back a few years, although not too much. to 2014.
That year, GF bought its microelectronics division from IBM, which allowed it to take over its business, and, what is even more important, also control the intellectual property that this subsidiary had developed up to that moment. GF currently has about a 7% share of the semiconductor market, putting it well behind TSMC, Intel and Samsung, and slightly ahead of China’s SMIC, which has a 5% share.
The purchase of its microelectronics division from IBM was intended, among other objectives, to help GF consolidate its integration technologies and develop your own 7nm lithograph. However, in 2018 the management leadership decided to cancel the UVE program. At that time, ASML was installing several extreme ultraviolet lithography equipment in GF’s most advanced chip plant, Fab 8, but its financial capacity was not sufficient to support this investment.
2nm chips are in the crosshairs of IBM, Intel and Rapidus
The commercial relationship between IBM and GF did not end with the purchase of 2014. In fact, the agreement they signed that year provided that during the next decade GF would exclusively manufacture 22, 14 and 10 nm integrated circuits for IBM. In addition, the latter company agreed to pay GF 1.5 billion dollars to continue developing its products. However, IBM has since made new friends, probably prompted by the fact that GF has lost relevance in the semiconductor market to some of its competitors.
In 2021 IBM announced that its Albany lab had developed its own 2nm integration technology
IBM no longer makes chips on a large scale, but this by no means means that it has abandoned semiconductor research. So much so that in mid-2021 he announced to great fanfare that his Albany, New York lab had succeeded in manufacturing a 300mm wafer using his own cutting-edge lithography: 2 nm. His plan was not to go back to manufacturing chips; was to sell that technology to some of his closest partners, including Intel, Samsung and the Japanese company Rapidus.
This collaboration is precisely what has caused IBM to be sued by GF. In the statement published just two days ago, the latter company accuses IBM of having delivered to Intel and Rapidus a part of the intellectual property that has belonged to it since 2014. These technologies were allegedly developed by the microelectronics division that it bought that year, so that its transfer to third parties, according to GF, compromises its competitiveness in the short and medium term. IBM has defended itself by claiming that GF’s complaint is not justified, but this has only just begun. The courts will decide over the next few weeks who is right.
Cover image: IBM
More information: GlobalFoundries
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