SANTA CLARA, Calif. Two emerging players in the nascent market for silicon intellectual property (IP) will announce a cooperative effort today (March 22) to facilitate the trading of semiconductor cores.
The Virtual Component Exchange (VCX) and the Reusable Application-specific Intellectual Property Developers (Rapid) group will create joint task forces that aim to clear distribution, legal and business hurdles to sharing IP. However, one aspect of their efforts has raised questions from a competing database service for intellectual property.
VCX and Rapid plan to cooperate in three areas: the creation and use of an Internet-based IP identification and qualification system; business models for IP companies; and the creation of licensing models that provide benefits for both IP providers and systems companies that use IP. The lineup could also presage a plan through which Rapid members could become members of the VCX.
Further, the par tnership is likely to result in a merging of existing Rapid and VCX Web database efforts. That possibility has raised the specter of heightened competition with a rival database perceived to have a broader array of core listings created by Design & Reuse SA, in Grenoble, France. (CMP Media Inc., the publisher of EE Times, has a minority stake in Design & Reuse.)
"It may be that Rapid can keep their own front end but that we can use some of their legacy developments," said Andy Travers, chief executive officer of VCX (Livingston, Scotland). "We are talking to Synchronicity Inc. [Marlborough, Mass.] about building a seamless database structure that includes Rapid."
Rapid's database of members' cores was built with Synchronicity's help. The database is accessible online.
Gabriele Saucier, president of Design & Reuse, was critical of the VCX/Rapid alliance, saying her own company's Web-based database is more flexible than Rapid's and thus is a better candidate for VCX cooperation.
"D&R is today the market leader in IP cataloging and is building up efficient IP-exchange technology based on broad experience," she said. "D&R has put on the market an IP Catalog Builder characterized by flexible IP profiling and thus compatible, by definition, with any corporate rules, standard or application fields. The extension to IP Exchange technology is fully compatible with any CAD environment. Rapid has not demonstrated similar features."
Saucier was also critical of a Virtual Socket Interface Alliance working group that is pursuing standards for IP core data representations for use in online catalogs. "The VSIA IP exchange working group operates very poorly," she said. "Some individuals sit together and intend to put a VSIA stamp on the Rapid catalog."
VCX, established in October 1998 with the goal of streamlining IP core exchanges, now has the backing of a number of major systems, semiconductor and foundry operations. It has set up development wo rking groups to create a Web-based database and information-delivery system. The system would operate in parallel with a set of layered and modular standard contracts that VCX would encourage members to use when negotiating the transfer of IP cores.
"The goal of the VCX is to create a safe, efficient marketplace for IP, thereby reducing time-to-market for new products and reducing overall costs," said Travers. "By working closely with Rapid, we have access to some of the best thinking on business and legal issues. The result will be a faster launch of useful and commercially beneficial services to VCX members."
Rapid was created in June 1996 to represent the interests of IP developers. "The task forces are an extension of the VCX development working groups," Travers said. "VCX and Rapid are still independent organizations, so we have to conduct joint work inside separate task forces."
The agreement is likely to promote Rapid members' use of standard nondisclosure agreements and a modular contract system under development at VCX. As to whether Rapid could recruit members for VCX, or whether Rapid membership could serve as a route into VCX, Travers said, "We are talking about that, but we have to preserve the value for the members we already have."
Mark-Eric Jones, Rapid's chairman and vice president and general manager of intellectual property at Mosys Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.), said the closer relationship between the groups will let Rapid focus on providing information and programs that directly address the needs of its member companies.
"Rapid began addressing such broad challenges as IP business models and licensing to fill a gap in the industry," said Jones. "Now that the VCX is building an infrastructure to deal with those issues, Rapid can most effectively meet the challenges by combining its efforts with those of VCX. This joint effort will accelerate both organizations' reaching their defined goals."
No schedules were given for the task-force projects. Earlier this year, VCX said that work on database formats, contract templates and the specification for a secure IT platform for service delivery would go through in the second quarter. Beta versions of VCX systems are expected to be running by the second half.
Travers added that VCX version 1.0 is due to be released to members by late in the second quarter and that it will outline a repository and core listing system linked to data access and signoff procedures, information on business models and contracts, and minimum standards of virtual component information.
"We're combining the best from both organizations to provide solutions to mutual challenges," said James Doherty, chief executive officer of Integrated Silicon Systems (Belfast, Northern Ireland) and a member of both the Rapid board and the VCX steering working group.