How can semiconductor companies ensure IP integrity in a global marketplace? Are foundries liable if customers use stolen semiconductor IP? Do systems companies really care if their semiconductor IP is stolen? These are some of the questions that emerged at a Design Automation Conference panel in June, now available through a ChipEstimate.com video recording as noted at the end of this blog post.
The panel was entitled "Stop That Thief! IP in Global Markets." It was organized by Ron Moore of ARM and moderated by Adam Traidman, general manager of the Cadence ChipEstimate.com site. Panelists included:
Traidman opened the discussion with an interesting statistic gleaned from the ChipEstimate.com database, which includes thousands of chip estimations. A decade ago, he said, the average percentage of die area that was comprised of reused IP was 19%, and last year, that figure had risen to 78%. IP reuse has become a "value proposition" even for large, vertically integrated semiconductor companies, he noted, and IP has matured to the point where there are trusted, high-quality products.
Assuring IP Integrity
Still, from both a technical and legal perspective, IP integrity is a concern. "IP integrity is based on trust," Teppe said. "You want to trust that IP works, comes in on time, and doesn't jeopardize your business." On the leading edge, he said, there are few problems with IP integrity, but there are still some problems when it comes to "mainstream" IP.
Coady noted three IP reuse models: off-the-shelf "mature" IP, new IP that is still under development, and outsourced IP development. While the off-the-shelf approach poses the lowest risk, there may still be issues such as infringement. The other two models pose additional risks in terms of execution and quality, particularly when IP is sourced from emerging companies such as India and China.
Communication is one problem. "I've dealt with IP companies in India and China, and the assumptions we make aren't the assumptions they make," Coady said. "You have to be very specific. If you tell them to do the wrong thing they'll do it very happily." Further, engineers don't stay with companies very long, so a different team may finish the task. And NDAs may not mean a lot because of the cost of enforcing an NDA contract.
Kaplan said that India and China are currently in the "institutionalizing" stage, where the countries are creating institutions to enforce IP laws. He pointed to considerable progress and noted that China has developed an arbitration system that is "very friendly to foreigners."
Are Foundries Responsible?
Traidman asked Kaplan if foundries are at legal risk if they manufacture an IC with stolen IP. Yes, Kaplan replied; "if the foundry is producing [stolen] IP even unknowingly, patent infringement does not depend at all on you knowing that you are infringing."
This did not sit well with one audience member, who stated that "holding a foundry liable for manufacturing stolen IP is kind of like holding the phone company liable for harassing phone calls or FedEx for shipping drugs." But Kaplan stuck to his view that patent law applies even if the foundry doesn't know they're infringing. "If there was improper behavior by a customer of a foundry," Kaplan said, "depending on the contractual relationship, they [foundry] can have liability as well."
Teepe said that GLOBALFOUNDRIES asks customers where their standard cells and I/Os and memories are from, but does not generally question more complex IP. "The question is, do we really need to be the CIA drilling down into customer designs? No, I don't think we have to do that. I think we need to be reasonably vigilant so we're doing the right thing."
Do Systems Companies Care?
Another audience member noted that he's heard companies say they don't care if their silicon IP is stolen, or may even regard it as a good thing if it spreads their architecture in an emerging market. "I've heard more than one company say they don't care," replied Coady. "By the time it's stolen and other people are using it, they're moving on." But other companies that are not so fast-moving put a lot of effort into protecting their IP.
These were just some of the interesting points that emerged from a lively 45-minute discussion. You can listen to the entire discussion at the ChipEstimate.com site or by clicking on the video below.