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Taiwan Semiconductor Goes on Patent Offensive

The world's largest contract semiconductor manufacturing plant took steps over the weekend to shield itself from a potential copyright lawsuit.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Friday filed a civil suit in US District Court in San Jose, California, asking for a declaratory judgment that two patents owned by Chicago-based Syndia Corp., are invalid.

The suit was filed after legal counsel for Syndia advised TSMC that it intended to file patent infringement claims based on two patents (United States Patent Nos. 4,702,808 and 5,131,941) that were filed with the US Patent Office by Jerome H. Lemelson in 1957 and 1964. The patents were finally issued in 1987 and 1992, and were allegedly assigned to Syndia through the Lemelson Medical, Educational and Research Foundation Limited Partnership (LMERF) in 2001. Fifteen related patents came from Lemelson's patent portfolio.

Since then, Syndia has earned another eighteen patents, for a total of thirty-three patents. This portfolio has broad applications in synthetic diamond and diamond like coatings, integrated circuits, flat panel displays, radiation, and laser based processes.

TSMC, its North American offices in San Jose, Calif. and susidiary WaferTech LLC said they decided to take the preemptive position after learning that Syndia had sent letters to customers requesting the payment of a "lump-sum licensing offer."

The company said it feels like Syndia's actions are designed to interfere with TSMC's customer relationships.

TSMC makes chips for hundreds of manufacturers such as Philips and Motorola and fabless chip companies such as Broadcom and NVIDIA. The company operates one advanced 300mm wafer fab, five eight-inch fabs and one six-inch wafer fab. TSMC also has substantial capacity commitments at two joint ventures fabs (VIS and SSMC)

"We fully respect the legitimate intellectual property rights of others; however, we are committed to defending the company and its customers against invalid claims whenever they appear. We firmly believe that TSMC does not infringe and that these Syndia patents are invalid and unenforceable," TSMC vice president and General Counsel Dr. Dick Thurston said in a prepared statement.

Representatives with Syndia were not immediately available for comment.

In addition to rendering Syndia's patents are invalid, the judgment would mean that the copyright is unenforceable and are not infringed by TSMC. A judge's ruling is expected soon.