SAN JOSE, Calif. Infineon Technologies AG is lobbying top semiconductor makers and Synopsys Inc. to create a new clearing house for intellectual property. Infineon executives seek to establish a third-party IP repository based on common licensing terms in an effort to bolster the use of silicon cores.
"This is a very serious discussion and, for me, it is a bit of a personal crusade," said Tony Webster, senior vice president and general manager of the cores and modules division of Infineon, at a press event Monday (Sept. 25) prior to the opening of the Embedded Systems Conference here.
Webster said he is in direct discussion with four of the world's top ten chip makers to create such an IP repository, perhaps as a division of Synopsys Inc. While Webster would not confirm which semiconductor companies he is speaking with, he suggested the list could include Motorola, STMicroelectronics, IBM and at least one chip maker in Japan.
He said he hopes the group can agree to a single open licensing scheme and pool its combined IP in a repository with a company such as Synopsys, which would become a single source to license and distribute the cores. Once a common licensing scheme is agreed to, the chip makers could put out a request to find companies interested in acting as the distribution agent for the IP, he said.
Webster brushed off suggestions that other efforts, such as the Virtual Component Exchange (VCX) and Mentor Graphics Corp.'s Inventra program, are making similar efforts. "There are a number of talking shops, but there are few action shops," he said.
Webster put no time frame on how long it might take to bring his discussions to fruition. He suggested the talks required getting approval from product-level managers and well as chief executives at the semiconductor companies, many of which are not highly motivated to join his program, called Shared IP.
"For instance, it's only recently that Motorola has formed a group to han dle intellectual property licensing, and that group is still working out what it will do," he said. "And I would not expect an Intel or a Texas Instruments to make its IP available through such a program," he said.
For its part, Infineon formed its cores group 18 months ago. That group now has more than $50 million in revenues, 20 percent of which come from outside the company, Webster said. Among the IP licensed by the group are its Carmel DSP, TriCore microprocessor and C166 microcontroller, the latter being co-developed with STMicro.
Adding to its IP war chest, Infineon quietly acquired Sican GmbH (Hannover, Germany) two months ago, Webster said in response to an question from the audience about the unannounced deal. Sican, a design services and IP company, has a broad portfolio of multimedia and communications cores in areas such as USB 2.0, MPEG-2 and ATM. According to one source, Infineon paid $100 million for Sican, which employs about 250 engineers and has annual revenues of about $30 million .
This past August, the European Commission completed a two-year investigation of Sican which concluded that the company did not have to repay more than $100 million in grants it had received in the 1990s, which some had questioned as illegal state aid.
Webster said one thing holding back broader growth in the use of intellectual property cores is the relatively closed approach to licensing under which companies put their IP into products before it is released into the merchant market. "We believe the industry will be strengthened by open IP and broad cross licensing of technologies," he said.
Webster called for the industry to adopt a model of open core licensing based on the work of the IP Trading Co. in Japan. "We would like to see a process similar to theirs adopted on a global scale," he said.