The Battle for Liquid Cooling: Asetek Sues CoolIT, is Corsair in Danger?
It looks like we have entered an era of not innovation, but rather innovation litigation. Companies are suing each other for technologies which were a part of the enthusiast movement not too long ago. The latest case in point is Asetek Holdings, which sued CoolIT Systems for US patent #8,240,362.
Computer cooling solutions have come a long way. Just ten years ago, I was reviewing Antec, Swiftec and Zalman heatsinks, with the initial liquid cooling systems coming out of German Innovatek. Liquid cooling setups were clunky and very enthusiast-oriented, since there were no completed systems.
From those early days, two companies rose to power – Danish Asetek Holdings Inc., and Canadian CoolIT Systems went into OEM deals with well-known manufacturers such as Alienware/Dell and Hewlett-Packard. However, Asetek was the first manufacturer to offer a complete integrated liquid cooling solution named LCLC (short for Low Cost-Liquid Cooling). In 2006, Asetek applied for several international patents, followed with an application to the USPTO. The company received multiple patents granted during August 2012. Now Asetek and their legal firm are springing to action.
Given the number of such solutions on the market and the timing of this lawsuit vs. the timing of the granted patent, the question stands if Asetek tried to license its technology, or the company just wants to remove their competitors from the market.
The company and its legal firm of Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner LLP moved to action and sued its largest competitor, Canadian firm CoolIT Systems. While the case is pending its initial hearing, we took a detailed look at the patents in question (8,240,362, 8,245,764). Based on the engineering drawings, the initial design and size stem from an Intel retail heatsink for the Socket 478 (Pentium 4), which was used to create a liquid cooling part in the same or similar volume. Asetek integrated the pump and the reservoir in the tight space above the actual processor.
The idea came from the early days of Xbox 360 development, when the goal was to cool down the hot console with liquid cooling. However, when the pricing negotiations between Asetek and Microsoft broke down, Microsoft went on the market with the inadequately cooled console and we all know the history of the Red Ring of Death.
Getting back to Asetek, there's no denying that their now patented innovations practically created the retail market for liquid cooling, which was considered enthusiast-oriented and risky, due to possible coolant leakage. One of companies that excelled in the 'integrated pump' area was CoolIT, producing systems for consumers and commercial use, all based on a similar principle. Just like Asetek walked away from its core business with VapoChill sub-zero cooled systems, CoolIT practically abandoned its high-performing line of TEC-cooled (Peltier) heatsinks. Today, both companies compete for the same space.
Both companies ventured into making liquid cooling more affordable and today we can say that they both succeeded. However, Asetek was the first, as the US PTO agreed with. How this case will proceed, and will it affect CoolIT's OEM partners such as Corsair Components (the complete lineup is manufactured by CoolIT), Acer and others – only time will tell.