Asked about this accelerating NPE activity, Mike McLean, senior vice president of IP Services at TechInsights, told EE Times that it’s not exclusive to the U.S. “Japan has been a major source of patents to the large NPEs.”
Freescale and Micron have had large deals publicized and the Qimonda and Elpida portfolios are being managed by enforcement entities, he added. “Otherwise, smaller portfolios come from a range of sources — startups, peeled off M&A deals, bankruptcies, companies regularly selling patents to fund other activity etc.”
Wi-LAN, Acacia: Who are those guys?
In Yole’s opinion, hands down, Wi-LAN is the biggest threat today. “On average, Wi-LAN files patent litigations within the next two years after their acquisition.”
Asked about Wi-LAN’s potential targets, Yole listed: Apple, HP, Micron, Amkor, Cypress, Nanya, UMC, Qualcomm, Toshiba, Texas Instruments, Fujitsu, Sharp, Socionext, Sony, MicroSemi, Philips, Intel, Hitachi, Texas Instruments, UMC, Broadcom, Nikon, Canon, Zeiss, OmniVision and Samsung.
EE Times asked KnowMade’s IP, patent and technology analysts — Fleur Thissandier and Audrey Bastard — specific examples of patent litigation filed by Wi-LAN in the semiconductor field.
In 2016, Wi-LAN filed 17 suits. “These patent litigations are part of Wi-LAN litigation campaigns started in 2015-2016,” the KnowMade analysts explained. “Most of these litigation cases are still open.”
Among the Wi-LAN’s campaigns Wi-LAN in recent years, one is specifically related to semiconductor memory products that include SRAM, DDR SDRAM, DRAM and flash memory. By “litigation campaign,” KnowMade means “all cases filed by the same plaintiff (inclusive of all members in the corporate family) where each case has at least one patent or family member of a patent in common with another case in the campaign.”
Among those targeted in this particular semiconductor memory-related litigation campaign are IDT, Nanya, UMC, Etron, Toshiba, ISSI and ESMT. Wi-LAN subsidiaries (North Star Innovations and PLL Technologies) announced earlier this year they have entered into license agreements with Nanya Technology. (http://www.wilan.com/news/news-releases/news-release-details/2017/WiLAN-Subsidiaries-Enter-into-License-Agreements-with-Nanya-Technology/default.aspx)
Asked about the current status of Wi-LAN cases in semiconductor memory in the campaign that opened in 2015, KnowMade noted that the case with Etron is still open. Others have closed at various times just within the past six months.
Wi-LAN’s case against Kingston, filed in 2016 on SSD and DRAM, remains open. Wi-LAN also filed a still open case against Nvidia and Dell on mobile processors in 2016, according to KnowMade.
It’s important to note that Wi-LAN never publicly shares the value of license agreements in its press release. All other terms of the license agreements remain confidential.
Yole also flagged Acacia Research as “the most hostile Patent Licensing Company in Semiconductor filed, with numerous patent litigation campaigns over many past years.” As Acacia maintains its aggressiveness, Yole cautioned that Acacia in coming years is likely to target, in particular, “Samsung, Texas Instruments, Micron, SK Hynix, Sharp, Cypress, Fujitsu, UMC, Intel, Toshiba, Broadcom, IBM, Analog Devices, AMD, Xilinx, Honeywell, HP, Sony, Siemens, Infineon and UMC.”Litigation risk assessment
Yole also warned, “Many industrial companies in every level of the semiconductor supply chain are potential targets for Patent Licensing Companies.”
Those in the supply chain include: IDMs, outsourced semiconductor assembly and test providers (OSATs), equipment and material suppliers.Next page: How to deal with patent trolls