Asetek recently levied ~$405,000 in damages and an accompanying injunction against Cooler Master (CMI), effectively necessitating a cessation of production and sales of infringing CLCs by Cooler Master. This settlement was achieved by extrapolating a 14.5% royalty on US CLC sales by the defendant.
In 2013, CLC manufacturer Swiftech agreed to remove its H220 AIO liquid cooler from the US market in an effort to avoid a lawsuit from Asetek, but protested that its H220 was not infringing upon Asetek's patents. The H220 is still available in non-American markets.
The Asetek vs. CoolIT settlement amount has not been publicly disclosed at this time, but we're told it may be released in an upcoming press release.
CoolIT presently has action pending against Asetek, posted after filing its own patent infringement claim against the company in June, 2014. CoolIT claims that Asetek has infringed upon its split-flow fluid heat exchangers found in CoolIT's CLCs, stating the following:
“This is a key patent for the company that adds significantly to our IP portfolio. The invention relates to a compact method of delivering coolant through an opening over a central section of micro-channels resulting in a superior level of performance. This patent strengthens CoolIT’s position with our proprietary technology giving us a tremendous advantage in the market.” (Geoff Lyon, Chief Technical Officer, CoolIT).
Asetek & CoolIT Settlement: What It Means for the Market
Asetek is a CLC supplier, sourced by the likes of Corsair and NZXT for many of their CLC products. CoolIT, also a supplier, may be required to limit sales of its units to companies implementing its solutions in manufacturing. We are yet unsure of the full extent of the settlement.
Before this settlement, CoolIT was slated to act as the OEM for Corsair's impending H110 GT (a cooler we featured in an engineering drill-down). Our educated (but pure) speculation would be that the H110 GT will experience limited-run production, but we can't know for certain until further information is released from CoolIT.
Corsair's other forthcoming coolers, including the leaked H100i GTX and H80i GT units, both appear to be using Asetek's 5th Generation liquid cooling solution; production of these coolers will be unaffected by the lawsuit.
CoolIT may have lost its largest CLC client as a result of the recent litigation.
The Heart of the Claims
As we understand it, the core of Asetek's patent infringement lawsuits is its pump, mounted atop the CPU block. Companies that directly mount a pump to the CPU block could potentially be at risk of patent infringement.
Some companies, like Deepcool, have found legal work-arounds that bypass the patent while still offering a block-mounted CLC pump. The problem with this approach is that it increases cost of the unit and isn't particularly efficient, though the aesthetics aren't all that bad when considering the design confines.
Swiftech has remained active by switching over to a radiator-mounted pump, which seems to make the most sense. This increases radiator size – something that is becoming less of an obstacle as cases adapt to the growing CLC demand – but removes the pump from the CPU block.
Antec is the final CLC manufacturer with a design that appears safe from Asetek's claims. Antec removed the pump from the CPU block entirely, instead housing on the same axis as the radiator's fans. This creates new problems, like irreplaceable fans and larger radiator mass, but manages to dodge patent claims.
What's Left of the CLC Market?
At this point, we're primarily left with these CLC suppliers and OEMs: Asetek, Cooler Master, AVC, Aquatuning, Swiftech, and Antec's unknown OEM. Apaltek – a small, largely undetected force in the market – has also designed liquid coolers, including SilverStone's Tundra TD02.
What do you think about the lawsuit and its potential ramifications?
Update: Statement from CoolIT
We received the following statement from Geoff Lyon, CEO & CTO of CoolIT:
"I read your article and thought I'd add some clarity. I wanted to let you know that there will be no disruption in our supply of cooling systems to Corsair or any of our other customers as a result of our settlement with Asetek. In actual fact, it has not been decided if there will even be any damages due to Asetek at all since there is still no indication of infringement. The fact is, the settlement will have no impact on our business at all, aside from our management team no longer having to waste time, energy, and money on this silly lawsuit."
- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.