Samsung ordered to pay $400 million in FinFET licensing case


Bloomberg reports that Samsung Electronics has been ordered to pay $400 million to KAIST IP, the patent-licensing sister company to Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), by a federal jury in Marshall, Texas. The patent in question involves FinFET fabrication technology, a transistor type Samsung started using in products like the 14-nm Exynos 7 Octa 7870 SoC released in early 2016.

The jury said Samsung's infringement was "willful," a remark that means the judge could increase the amount Samsung has to pay KAIST IP to as much as $1.2 billion. Qualcomm and GlobalFoundries were also found to have infringed on the patent, but were not ordered to pay any penalties. Rival silicon maker Intel is one of KAIST IP's licensees and has been using FinFETs since 2012's 22-nm Ivy Bridge CPUs.

FinFETs are one of the fundamental structures silicon manufacturers have begun employing in the last few years to help achieve better performance and power efficiency in finished chips, especially as feature sizes have shrunk towards the limits of silicon. Samsung unsuccessfully argued that it worked with KAIST to develop the technology and challenged the validity of the patent. KAIST's lawyers charged that Samsung was dismissive of the FinFET technology until the company got wind of Intel's plans to use FinFETs in its own designs. The Korean manufacturer said it "will consider all options to obtain an outcome that is reasonable, including an appeal."

The US District Court in the Eastern District of Texas, the location for the lawsuit, is widely accepted as a litigation venue friendly to patent holders. KAIST IP is based in Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, despite the university's home in Daejeon, South Korea, over 6400 miles away (11,000 km). Patently Apple reported back in December 2016 that KAIST IP could target TSMC as an additional infringer for FinFET-related litigation, but at the time had "yet to secure enough evidence to proceed." With that in mind, we may not have seen the end of the FinFET IP wars.

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