Dan Loeb Enters the Chip Wars

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A small computer chip design company, R2 Semiconductor, has been notching wins in a potentially big patent fight against Intel over the past few months — a dispute that could force Intel to stop selling several chip lines in Europe.

Behind R2’s legal war is one of the biggest names in hedge funds, DealBook is first to report: Dan Loeb’s activist hedge fund Third Point, the company’s majority owner, is bankrolling the lawsuits, including two new ones against Amazon Web Services and Fujitsu that haven’t been previously reported.

The context: R2 sued Intel, as well as two customers, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Dell, in Germany, alleging that the chipmaker had infringed on a patent dealing with voltage regulation in semiconductors. (Intel is indemnifying H.P.E. and Dell.)

A regional court in February issued injunctions against the sale of at least some Intel chips. And on March 8, a higher court rejected Intel’s effort to halt the decision. Meanwhile, a trial in Britain over the patent is set to begin next month.

Intel says that the R2 patent applies to older generations of its chips. But R2 and Third Point told DealBook that it may also apply to the current generation of Intel chips.

Third Point has made the fight possible. The firm first invested in R2 15 years ago, eventually amassing a 75 percent stake. Not only has it been paying for R2’s legal costs, but it also plans to put up the $79 million required to be held in escrow while the court fights in Germany continue.

Loeb’s firm could make a windfall if R2 wins royalty payments from Intel. But the financier told DealBook that he’s also trying to help Dave Fisher, R2’s founder: He compared R2 to companies like Arm that earn royalties for their cutting-edge designs. “That opportunity was taken from Dave,” Loeb said. “We plan to correct that.”

Intel isn’t giving up. It has dismissed R2 as “a shell company whose only business is litigation,” and noted that a different R2 patent was invalidated in the U.S.

Loeb told DealBook: “You wouldn’t be a very good patent troll if you spent 15 years of your life developing a patent, giving up weekends, working day and night to develop something, in the hopes that it would be stolen, and then think you’re going to go litigate it.”

Intel, Dell and Fujitsu didn’t respond to requests for comment. Amazon Web Services and H.P.E. declined to comment.

What next? Germany’s patent court will make a final decision on the validity of R2’s claim in October. A victory there could lead to a ban on affected Intel chips in Germany — just as the chipmaker is in the process of spending about $33 billion to build a new plant there.

R2 and Third Point also suggested that they may pursue claims in the 38 other members of the European Patent Convention.

Apple is said to be in talks to team up with Google on artificial intelligence. The two are discussing a licensing deal that would mean Google’s Gemini models power new features on the iPhone, according to Bloomberg; the two already have a lucrative search deal. In other A.I. news: Elon Musk’s xAI released the raw computer code behind its Grok chatbot; and the Department for Homeland Security is the first federal agency to incorporate generative A.I. across a range of divisions through partnerships with OpenAI, Anthropic and Meta.

China reports better-than-expected manufacturing growth. Beijing said on Monday that industrial output rose 7 percent in January and February from the same time a year ago. Analysts said the data suggested that the country’s struggling economy was stabilizing, even as consumer demand remains weak, as the government tries to hit an ambitious 5 percent annual growth target.

It’s a big week for central banks. The Bank of Japan, the Fed and the Bank of England are set to make interest-rate policy decisions. The drama will start in Tokyo on Tuesday, as investors speculate that the B.O.J. will raise rates for the first time since 2007. The Fed, meanwhile, is expected to keep rates flat on Wednesday but offer clues on whether a June cut is in the cards.

The backers and opponents of a bill that could ban TikTok in the U.S. have been out in force, making their cases ahead of a potential Senate vote. One thing that’s missing: any hint that America’s allies are going to follow suit, notably in Europe, which has historically come down hard on Big Tech.

The gap shows that many don’t think TikTok or China poses a similar threat, and also reveals a more expansive view of regulating social media that could worry the app’s U.S. rivals.

Several countries have introduced limited TikTok bans. The European Union and others have prohibited state workers from using the app on government devices. Canada said last week that it had started a national security review into TikTok’s expansion plans there. But the governments haven’t typically told the public to avoid it.

Europe doesn’t see TikTok as much of a security threat. That means there’s less political will to rein it in, said Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer who has hounded U.S. social networks on their handling of user data. One reason: the app’s relatively small reach. The vast majority of user data flows to American tech companies, he said. “TikTok is really pretty much for teenagers, and that’s about it,” Schrems told DealBook, saying Europeans are more likely to use WhatsApp or Instagram.

E.U. data-protection and market rules cover the gamut of social media rather than individual apps. Regulators are already using them: Last month, the bloc opened an investigation centered on TikTok’s addictive algorithm. “There are certainly things setting TikTok apart from others, but still, many of the risks being discussed about TikTok apply to other platforms as well,” Julian Jaursch, a tech policy expert at the think tank Stiftung Neue Verantwortung told DealBook. (Some in the U.S. are pushing for a similarly broad approach.)

Europe is also split on China — a far cry from Washington, where there’s bipartisan consensus that China is a threat. E.U. countries with strong trade links to China are keen to maintain ties. “This makes it very difficult for Brussels to reach the consensus needed to take tough measures singling out either China itself or leading Chinese companies,” Max von Thun of the Open Markets Institute, a competition policy think tank, told DealBook.

If the bill becomes law, that may change.


Donald Trump is ahead of President Biden in many polls, but he’s badly behind in cash. The Biden campaign disclosed on Sunday that it had $155 million in cash on hand, dwarfing what the Trump camp and the Republican National Committee probably have.

That has added urgency to the former president’s fund-raising efforts, The Times reports, including courting deep-pocketed backers.

Trump’s legal fights are weighing on his campaign. He has been tapping his campaign to fund his defense in a half-dozen battles in federal and state courts. The costs are rising: He recently posted a $91.6 million bond in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case, and must post a $450 million bond in the New York civil fraud case against his businesses.

In a sign of the campaign’s financial straits, at least two donors who made seven-figure pledges to Trump have been asked for millions more.

The former president is hitting up potential donors, including at private dinners at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He has also created a new joint fund-raising account with the R.N.C. (which is now co-led by his daughter-in-law) and state parties to raise significant sums.

One potential point of leverage: The 2017 tax cuts that he signed into law are set to expire in 2025, and Biden has said he won’t extend them for the nation’s highest earners.

Those whom he has talked to recently include: Larry Ellison, the Oracle co-founder; Pepe Fanjul, the sugar magnate; John Paulson, the hedge fund manager; Steve Wynn, the casino mogul; Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets; Jeff Yass, a billionaire investor in TikTok’s parent company; and Elon Musk (though he has said he won’t give to either Biden or Trump).

  • In other election news: Robert Kennedy Jr. is likely to pick Nicole Shanahan, an entrepreneur who paid for a Super Bowl ad promoting his independent presidential run (and the ex-wife of the Google co-founder Sergey Brin) as his running mate. And Trump economic advisers have reportedly presented him with three candidates for Fed chair: Kevin Warsh, Kevin Hassett and Arthur Laffer.


In response to Andrew’s question last week, DealBook readers had plenty to say about the debate over whether increasing banks’ capital requirements could avert the next crisis. Here’s a sample of the responses:

  • Sanford M. Brown, a financial services lawyer, is concerned that higher capital requirements could affect recruitment: “As banking becomes less attractive to investors, it will become less attractive to employees, and I’m not sure we want one of the most important drivers of the American economy to be less attractive to the best and brightest that our country has to offer.”

  • Carter Dougherty, the communications director at Americans for Financial Reform (and a former reporter for The Times), has fewer qualms about that: “With executive compensation linked to bank share prices, you realize the incredibly self-interested case that the bank lobby makes against more equity/capital: it lowers banker compensation.”

  • Chris Kotowski, a Wall Street analyst, says the debate elides important nuances: “You need to look at dozens of different ratios and exposures to get a handle on asset quality, liquidity and market risk, but capital boils down to a single number, and that is why both politicians and regulators always like to pull the ‘C’ lever. They can say, ‘Hey, it used to be 6% now it’s 12%. See, we’ve done something.’”

Deals

  • Joann, the embattled arts-and-crafts retailer, filed for bankruptcy protection; the chain will be owned by its creditors after reorganizing its debt. (Bloomberg)

  • As Nelson Peltz presses his activist campaign against Disney, his investment firm has reportedly suffered from investors’ withdrawal requests and tension over the growing role of his son Matt. (NYT, WSJ)

Policy

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