The relationship between GlobalFoundries and IBM has been rocky in recent years. Among other things, Big Blue has previously sued GF, seeking damages for abruptly stopping the development of leading-edge process technologies in 2018 and disrupting IBM's server CPU plans. On Wednesday GlobalFoundries fought back and accused IBM of handling GlobalFoundries' IP related to chip manufacturing to Intel and Rapidus as part of its ongoing partnerships with these companies to develop leading-edge chip technologies. As part of the filing, GlobalFoundries is also accusing IBM of poaching its engineers.

In its lawsuit, GlobalFoundries asserts that IBM illegitimately revealed its IP and trade secrets to Intel and Japan's Rapidus, a newly formed leading-edge logic foundry backed by leading Japanese companies. The contract maker of chips claims that it owns the IP in question after it acquired IBM's microelectronics business in 2015 and received $1.5 billion for it and 'substantial intellectual property.' Back then, the companies said that as part of the deal, GloFo got direct access to IBM's continued investment in world-class semiconductor research to enable 'its path to advanced process geometries at 10 nm and beyond.'

The GF accusation is based on the fact that IBM management portrayed the partnerships with Intel and Rapidus as based on technologies that originated from research conducted at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute's NanoTech Complex (in Albany, NY) over several decades. Those technologies were indeed developed by IBM's microelectronics division, which GlobalFoundries took over in 2015. GlobalFoundries now asserts that IBM is unfairly gaining potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing income and other benefits by sharing this IP.

IBM is partnering with Intel 'to advance next-generation logic and packaging technologies,' which is a vague description of the collaboration. Still, next-generation logic technologies include those that rely on gate-all-around (GAA), complementary field-effect transistors (or CFET), and sub-1 nm production nodes. As far as Rapidus is concerned, IBM is working with it to further 'develop IBM's breakthrough 2 nm node technology for implementation by Rapidus at its fab in Japan' by 2027.

Inside GlobalFoundries Fab 8 in Saratoga County, New York, US

There is another wrinkle about the semiconductor IP that IBM has. The company used to lead the Common Platform Alliance (known as IBM's fab club) that goes back multiple decades. Over the years, several companies, including AMD, GlobalFoundries, ST Microelectronics, and Samsung, participated in CPA. For example, IBM, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung demonstrated an experimental 5 nm node relying on GAA transistors in 2017, which gives an idea about advances made there. It does not look like GlobalFoundries accuses IBM of sharing IP it obtained while working the joint projects with GF and Samsung.

Another issue GlobalFoundries raises is that IBM is aggressively recruiting engineers from its Fab 8 in New York, with these efforts intensifying since the IBM/Rapidus announcement in December 2022. GloFo is requesting the court to prohibit what they consider to be "dishonest" recruitment practices.

IBM has responded to the allegations, stating that GlobalFoundries' claims are baseless and that the lawsuit is an attempt to gain leverage in an ongoing legal dispute over GF's breach of contract to offer IBM leading-edge process technologies to make its CPUs through 2025. That initial plan from 2015 went well off the rails in 2018, when GlobalFoundries made an abrupt change in their roadmap and opted to instead refocusing on specialty technologies. IBM sued GF for this in 2021, demanding $2.5 billion in compensation.

"Their allegations are entirely baseless, and we are confident that the court will agree," IBM said in a statement published by Reuters.

Source: GlobalFoundries

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  • shabby - Thursday, April 20, 2023 - link

    Global foundries has leading edge chip ip? 😂
  • LordConrad - Thursday, April 20, 2023 - link

    Completely possible. Having IP and putting it to use are two very different things.
  • Threska - Thursday, April 20, 2023 - link

    AMD use to use them for the I/O chiplets.
  • meacupla - Thursday, April 20, 2023 - link

    Yeah, and the X570 chipset that gloflo made ran hot, and everyone was making fun of AMD for requiring a 40mm fan to cool it.

    The only way that's "cutting edge" would be if the fan chopped fingers off.
  • Threska - Thursday, April 20, 2023 - link

    Fixed with the X570S.
  • Wrs - Thursday, April 20, 2023 - link

    When it comes to chip foundries, most the value in IP is from working and commercially-tested processes, not things dreamt up and never made reality - any physics grad can do that - because you don't know how much effort it'll take to make it work. This is particularly poignant for GloFo, who abandoned leading-edge work and forced IBM to seek alternative partners.
  • Samus - Friday, April 21, 2023 - link

    The problem for IBM is that things dreamt up decades ago are now being made reality, and those dreams are the property of GloFo. IBM is totally fucked here if a court and counsel savvy enough to explain the correlations is assigned.

    As far as IBM asking for 2.5B in damages from GloFo over shifting roadmaps...that's even more of a stretch and probably spawned this lawsuit so there can be a settlement.
  • erinadreno - Friday, April 21, 2023 - link

    Your car's MCU probably runs on GF's IP. And so does your AC, monitor, and your phone charger
  • name99 - Thursday, April 20, 2023 - link

    "newly formed leading-edge logic foundry backed by leading Japanese companies"

    Seriously? Way to bury the lede!

    The very existence of Rapidus seems rather more important than this minor legal squabble.
    And the fact that I have heard nothing about it before (as someone who follows this space not obsessively, but more so than the average person) even in these times of obsessing over Intel's foundry and what might happen to TSMC suggests that the news media have seriously let us all down!

    How leading edge? Wikipedia says they hope to have 2nm by 2027, so just two or three years behind TSMC! (Essentially 2nm is code for GAA transistors on high-NA EUV -- omit either of those and you are talking PR hype, not leading edge.)
  • Threska - Thursday, April 20, 2023 - link

    IBM use to be leading edge research. We'll see if they can translate that to something cutting-edge.

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