PARIS The follow-up program to Medea, Europe's current government-supported collaborative microelectronics research effort, should concentrate on system-on-chip (SoC), specialized embedded technologies such as RF and analog circuits, and extended ultraviolet lithography technology when it begins in 2001, according to officials from Medea (Microelectronics Developments for European Applications).
At a forum convened to discuss Medea's progress, it was also suggested that the so-called post-Medea program yet to be given a formal name should include systems companies and encourage the support of European EDA companies in their startup years.
Speaking at the forum, Medea chairman Juergen Knorr said most major European countries would agree to the creation of a post-Medea program. The post-Medea program would be of a similar size and duration as the current four-year effort, according to Knorr, and national governments would agre e to continue with 50 percent of the funding for individual projects, as they have done under Medea.
Medea is organized under the "Eureka" framework of research, a long-standing initiative that draws support from European countries both inside and outside the 15 member states of the European Union. But any post-Medea program could find itself competing for government funds against ITEA, a massive program aimed more broadly at information technology and budgeted to spend about $3.2-billion over eight years.
Medea is itself a follow-up program to the Joint European Submicron Semiconductor Initiative (Jessi). In its first three years Medea has helped Europe's major semiconductor companies develop 0.25- and 0.18-micron process technologies and focus on application-specific circuits in multimedia, telecommunications and automotive electronics. Medea is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2000 and has a total budget of about $2 billion, or $500 million per year.
Knorr said every other major geograp hic region, including the United States, Japan, Taiwan and Korea, supported domestic industry, so it was appropriate for Europe to do the same.
When challenged to detail how much support was given to semiconductor or electronics companies in other regions, Gerard Matheron, Medea administrative office director, said, "It's very difficult to quantify what the U.S. or Japan spends on publicly funded research. It's at least $500 million a year in the different regions and that's not including zero-interest loans and tax-credits."
Knorr added: "In Jessi we closed the technology gap. In Medea we turned to embedded applications. In the next program Europe should be the leader in system-on-silicon ICs."
Anton Sauer, Medea's vice chairman for applications, said the move to application-oriented chips and software programmable technologies would require greater input from systems companies.
"We will also include systems companies in a post-Medea program. The possibility of integrating whole systems on a chip means we also need to think about software," Sauer said.
Sauer also said the effort should help create new operations, particularly EDA companies, in Europe. "Jessi and Medea helped create startups," he said, referring to Arexsys, CoWare, Design & Reuse, Frontier Design and Verysys, among others. "It will continue in the post-Medea program. We should not only help them to start but we should also help them in life for the first couple of years."
Asked if support was compatible with commitments made by the European Union and individual European countries to the World Trade Organization not to directly subsidize companies or industries, Sauer responded: "I am not talking about using project funds to support these companies. I am talking about European industry supporting them. Our major companies give IP [intellectual property] to startups. They should also protect them and give them a chance to survive."
Even so, Verysys Design Automation Inc. (Fremont, Calif.), a formal verification company that used technology acquired from research at Siemens AG (Munich, Germany), went into bankruptcy in October.
Malcolm Penn, chairman and chief executive officer of research firm Future Horizons (Sevenoaks, England) and principal author of a midterm assessment of Medea, wrote in his report that "Public support continues to have a valid and strategic role to play before the information economy can safely be left to the full devices of the free-market forces."
Penn added that European semiconductor companies grew faster than the worldwide average between 1995 and 1998, in part because of the collaborative research activities of Jessi and Medea.
"Europe's past structural disadvantage has now, via precompetitive collaboration, turned into a major structural advantage, given that Japan remains too secretive and the United States too parochial," Penn concluded.
The report was generally positive about the goals and progress of Medea but criticized its automotive applications theme, calling it "very weak."
"Europe has a chance to lead the world, as it already does in mobile communications, by developing standards for post 12-V automotive electronics, global navigation, traffic management and collision-avoidance systems, and yet the opportunities are currently being passed by," the report stated.
Britain has not taken a significant part in Medea and will probably follow suit in any post-Medea program. United Kingdom government policies limit collaborative research support to companies with less than 250 people. With the sale of GEC-Plessey Semiconductors to Mitel Corp. (Kanata, Ontario), the United Kingdom no longer has a local major semiconductor manufacturing company.
In contrast, France, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium have been leading participants in Medea and have supported major semiconductor companies with operations in those countries, principally Alcatel Microlectronics, Infineon Technologies AG, Philips Semiconductors and STMicroelectronics.