Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company

Headquarters: Hsinchu, Taiwan

Industry sector: Semiconductors

The world’s first dedicated semiconductor foundry, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the manufacturer of choice for industry heavyweights such as Qualcomm and Broadcom, thanks to its sophisticated proprietary production technologies. Intellectual property is the lifeblood of TSMC, as senior vice president and general counsel Richard Thurston explains. “This is an entire company built on IP,” he says. “We don’t have a branded end product like most companies that sell consumer electronics; our manufacturing processes and related technologies are our most valuable resources.” In protecting these resources, the IP team makes full use of all available weapons in their arsenal, with a special focus on trade secrets.  “If I had to point to a key difference between this company and competitors, it would be our early and determined emphasis on trade secrets and the importance of this area of protection,” reveals Thurston. Patent filing and portfolio management is another central focus. “When I joined in 2002, we had about 2,000 US patents. Now - taking into account the patents we have acquired over the years - we expect to have nearly 9,000 US patents by the end of 2013,” says Thurston. Its filing strategy is predicated on the twin principles of quality and commercial and technical relevance. While external law firm providers are important partners in the patenting process, a majority of its core patent applications are painstakingly drafted in-house. Going forward, TSMC’s objective is to anticipate technology trends in the highly competitive semiconductor sector. To position itself to achieve this, it acquired a 5% stake in key equipment supplier ASML in 2012 and has ring fenced $334 million for R&D into next-generation manufacturing technologies.