For those of you who haven’t heard of Asetek, they are one of the largets players in the “all in one” (AIO) cooler market. Not only do they make their own AIO units but they also manufacture units for other brands including AMD’s awesome R9-295×2 (you can see a short list here). Today Asetek announced that they had gotten a US patent approved that is related to GPU cooling, particularly liquid cooling of it using a “thermal interposer”. As usual with the legal wording of the patent it’s hard to know exactly what would be covered and what would not.
It is likely however that this would cover any waterblock that uses some section to transfer heat from one part of the GPU to the main cooling core. Due to the vagueness it’s possible that this patent may cover any existing after market water block.
Why was the patent approved when aftermarket GPU blocks have been around so long?
For a start it takes a long time to get a patent approved. Just because it was approved today doesn’t mean that the “idea” wasn’t created at an earlier date. The earliest date on the google page for the patent indicated May 2008 -fairly close to the launch of the GTX295 which had a similar design to the Fig 3 which is described as “an exploded view of an adapter card assembly incorporating the embodiment of thermal interposer of … and the embodiment of cold plate assembly”. It is worth noting that water blocks for GPU’s existed long before the GTX295.
There are millions of stupid patents that get approved every year. The reality is that the US patent office has a limited budget with which to try and employ people to cover literally every area that someone might try and patent. Therefore most of the government “experts” are unlikely to be an expert in many of the patents they approve. Given the vague and loose wording that patent lawyers use it can often even be unclear exactly what the idea being patented is. Also even if a patent is granted it does not mean that it is enforcable.
Are Asetek patent trolls?
Honestly without consulting with a patent attorney it’s hard to know what the patent really means and covers. Asetek are certainly being aggressive about filing patents and lawsuits based on those patents – however they are not simply trolls that have no “real” business. They are a legitimate business that does create a product that is relevant to the patent.
What does this mean for the enthusiast?
In the worst case Asetek could attempt to sue waterblock manufacturers for lost income and force their products from sale until an agreement (payment) is reached. Asetek are no stranger to lawsuits having succesfully forced Swiftech to stop selling their H220 cooler in the US. They also have pending lawsuits with Cooler Master and CoolIT.
In practice they may not go after the high end waterblock manufacturers in the same way that they haven’t sued them for cpu waterblock designs despite their existing patents. It would be hard to prove that their idea was really the first when existing GPU block designs have been around for so long. Most likely they would attempt to use to corner the market in AIO GPU coolers – however even this is no guarantee that they would!
What have Asetek said about their plans?
Asetek are tight lipped on this – I asked my contacts but got a fairly generic response:
“Out of principle Asetek does not comment on its IP and IP policy – especially not when we are in active litigations as we are with Cooler Master and CoolIT Systems …. Asetek was, and is, based on enthusiasts and Asetek’s business model is not, and never was, to sue companies or to take out patents to play patent trolls. In fact, prior to 2012 Asetek never sued anyone. Asetek has invested millions and millions of Dollars in both developing our products as well as the markets and our business model is to develop and sell liquid cooling. Obviously we defend our IP when we feel other companies have taken unfair or illegal advantage of our IP. Patents and IP are complex matters and most people do not understand how to read a patent and what is actually protected. This is typically the main reason why people in forums etc. create a storm in a glass of water. It is not possible to get a patent on something that was readily available or invented before the patent was applied for and Asetek will not and cannot change this fundamental fact. Other than this we have no comments. ”
The only indicator here is that of course they recognize that they can not get a patent on something that invented before the patent was applied for which would imply that the older style existing designs are ok. As to what the patent therefore does cover – we’ll have to get some feedback from an attorney!
As an enthusiast what can and should you do?
Support companies with behavior and practices that you condone. Personally we support the idea of patents and being able to not have your ideas copied is a good thing. R&D costs money afterall, however the patent system has frequently become a joke to the point where patents are frequently of more use for “poor behavior” and frivolous lawsuits rather than rewarding “good innovation”. If Asetek misuse this patent for pure financial gain while stifling competition by then that is something we can not condone, however if they are legitimately protecting a real unique idea then that is different. Time will tell, for now though feel free to connect with Asetek’s social media and let them know what you think – facebook and twitter.