SPC hears $30 mln patent suit between Intel and China’s top research institute

China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) on April 25 heard an appeal filed by Intel China Ltd., the world’s largest chipmaker Intel Corp.’s Chinese unit, against a lower court decision in favor of the China National Intellectual Property Court (CNIPA). There has been no information about the ruling handed down by the SPC so far.


The Institute of Microelectronics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IMECAS) in February 2018 sued Intel China Ltd., Dell China Co., Ltd., and Beijing Jingdong Century Information & Technologies Co., Ltd. (北京京东世纪信息技术有限公司) in the Beijing High People's Court for infringing its Patent No. 201110240931.5 covering a semiconductor device structure and manufacturing method thereof and method for manufacturing semiconductor fins, seeking 200 million yuan ($30 million) in damages and costs.


The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) is China’s national academy for the natural sciences. Collectively known as the “Two Academies” along with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, it functions as China’s top scientific think tank and academic governing body, providing advisory and appraisal services on issues stemming from the national scientific, economic, and social development. The Institute of Microelectronics of the CAS is one of China’s key microelectronics research institutions and industrial integrated circuit innovators. The IMECAS’s patented technology being allegedly infringed is the FinFET (fin field-effect transistor) technology, first developed in 1999 by Professor Hu Chenming and colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley, which attempts to overcome the worst types of short-channel effect encountered by deep submicron transistors. Intel has been manufacturing 22 nm FinFETs in high volume since the introduction of its Ivy Bridge processor in 2011.


Intel in March 2018 filed an application for review of the allegedly infringed patent with the CNIPA for invalidation. The agency affirmed its whole validity in 2019. Intel appealed the CNIPA decision to the Beijing Intellectual Property Court, which in turn upheld the agency’s decision. Intel appealed the specialized IP court’s ruling to the SPC.


In parallel with the judicial avenue it took, Intel didn’t stop proceeding with the administrative procedures. The company in 2020 secured the CNIPA’s ruling of partial invalidity on the allegedly infringed patent at its second petition, with its claims 8, 10, and 14 being declared invalid. As of September 2021, the patent’s claims 1 to 7 were upheld by the CNIPA despite six invalidation challenges filed by Intel.


In September 2018 and March 2019, Intel filed two applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to invalidate the IMECAS’s U.S. Patent No. 907,071,9, sharing the same patent family with Patent No. 201110240931.5 in dispute. The USPTO rejected Intel's applications in March and September 2019 respectively, maintaining the patent’s validity. Intel also tried to initiate the Inter Partes review procedure in the USPTO to attack the patent. However, the USPTO has refused to hear the case, leaving the dispute in the hands of the Chinese patent authorities.


The case docket no. is (2022)最高法知行终251号, whose English transliteration is 251, second instance (终), civil case (民), intellectual property tribunal (知), (2022) Supreme People’s Court ((2022)最高法).