EDINBURGH, Scotland The online trading of intellectual property (IP) could create the need for a new class of independent service providers to evaluate IP cores and assemble pretested, multi-IP platforms, according to a panel session held Sunday (Oct. 22) before the opening of the IP2000 Europe conference and exhibition.
Chartered to discuss "Bringing the SoC intellectual property chain online," the panel identified the need for services beyond the marketing and licensing of cores by IP vendors.
Panelists said they recognize that steps are being taken to bring the supply-chain online, as evidenced by the opening this week of the Virtual Component Exchange (VCX). But opinions varied, between those who concluded that Internet- and intranet-mediated transactions were inevitable though in an uncertain time frame, to those who felt the process was dependent on achieving critical mass. Bu t panelists did agree that cultural and business models, rather than technical issues, will likely act as a brake on the uptake of online trading.
The panel was moderated by Jim Tully, senior EDA analyst at market research firm Dataquest Inc.
David Stewart, vice president for Europe of Simutech Inc. (San Jose, Calif.), said that evaluation is the missing element in the online supply chain, and should sit between the marketing/listings of cores and their subsequent licensing, such as that supported by VCX. Stewart said remote evaluation is something that Simutech is seeking to address technically.
"The market supply chain needs to be complete enough players need to play," said Stewart, adding that independent service providers "are necessary" to provide that completion.
Chris Jones, Prime Cell peripherals product manager for ARM Ltd., was cautious in his assessment of the online supply chain, pointing out that many pitfalls and barriers result from the fact that IP is licensed and not sold. "Direct trading will not benefit from being online unless the contract is shrink wrapped," he said. The existence of VCX and other standardizing bodies would aid the process, Jones said, but he immediately argued that it was critical to keep down the costs of participation for IP providers.
On the basic question of whether online supply will happen, Jones said, "Yes, it will but it will happen slowly."
He then described other services that could spring up around IP licensing, such as IP hardening and evaluation conducted by a third party and the development of multi-source systems of IP.
For Neil Francis, operations director of the Alba Center (Livingston, Scotland), and Alex Bedarida, vice president of the DSP, cores and modules division of Infineon Technologies AG (Munich, Germany), cultural issues are among the most significant.
Francis referenced a remote IP evaluation pilot study conducted by the Alba Center, called IP4eval. Bedarida said the creation of his entire division a t Infineon was a strategic-level recognition of the necessity to license IP both within and from outside Infineon.
"The cultural barrier is the hardest to overcome," he said. "Open and anonymous licensing the way Microsoft licenses Windows is still rare."
Andy Travers, chief executive officer of VCX, argued that adoption of online trading would be driven initially by engineering productivity gains, although OEM companies will have to adopt new procedures and internal culture as they increasingly adopt an approach that requires them to buy rather than make a solution. A second boost for online trading will occur when it becomes the only sustainable approach to delivering low-cost IP functions such as bus-interface models, he said.
Jauher Zaidi, president and chief executive officer of Palmchip Inc., gave an illustration of time-to-market pressures by stating that his customer base was asking him to reduce a 15-month "to-packaged silicon" design time in 1999 to a seven-month time fr ame in 2001.
"They have to evaluate and acquire any IP in one month," Zaidi said.
"The IP market started 10 years ago with the founding of ARM and we are only just getting used to the idea," he said. "We may have to wait another 10 years, but we also have to be patient."
Panelists were asked to comment on whether a central repository of mutually compatible and pretested IP cores would be compatible with the business-to-business model of VCX.
Infineon senior vice president Tony Webster raised the prospect of such a repository last month, when he said he was in discussions with several top chip makers and Synopsys Inc. about creating such a repository.
Panelist Bedarida of Infineon said: "The main issue is the attitude of the top ten semiconductor companies. There are very few of them prepared to license IP in a strategic way."
Many of the panelists said a single global repository did not seem likely, but said that many such repo sitories were a possibility, just as multi-vendor platforms now solve OEM requirements. Multiple repositories would present independent service providers with other niches in which to operate, panelists said.
Asked if Simutech would move into a service role, Stewart declined to commit his company. But Neil Francis, speaking enthusiastically about his experience on the IP4eval project, said the Alba Center was keen to foster an entry into independent service.