LIVINGSTON, Scotland Virtual Component Exchange (VCX), an industry organization set up to ease trade in intellectual property (IP) cores, has added Hitachi Ltd., UMC Group, Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and ARC Cores Ltd. as members.
VCX now has the support of the foundry industry's three biggest players: UMC Group (Taipei, Taiwan); Chartered Semiconductor (Singapore) and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC). Those three foundries accounted for 88 percent of sales in the $3.725 billion pure-play foundry market last year, according to IC Insights Inc. (Scottsdale Ariz.).
Observers said the foundries are seeking to secure a key position in the emerging IP-cores business, just as semiconductor companies are looking to emphasize system-level knowledge rather than silicon-manufacturing expertise.
"Everyone's got a role to play and the semiconductor companies are just as interested [in VCX] as the foundries," said VCX director Andy Travers. "But I suppose there is a strategy among the foundries to move up the value chain, to get involved with IP." He pointed out that VCX's founders include three of the world's top 10 semiconductor makers Motorola, Siemens and Toshiba.
Other founder-members among the 10 announced last October include ARM, Cadence Design Systems, Integrated Silicon Systems, Mentor Graphics, Phoenix Technologies and TSMC.
Jim Ballingall, vice president of worldwide marketing at UMC Group, confirmed UMC's participation in VCX. "There is a trend for foundries to offer additional services," he said. "Providing mask tooling, standard cells, I/O cells and memory generators and forming associations with IP providers is part of that.
"Are we moving up the value chain? Well, we will remain a foundry and not become an ASIC provider or standard semiconductor manufacturer," he said, "but I think it is certainly a trend that foundries are working directly with the systems companies."
VCX committe es so far include a steering working group and four development working groups (DWGs) to cover initial contact, contract, clearing-house functions and risk management and dispute arbitration.
While little detail has been forthcoming on VCX's future steps, some members see as possible and highly desirable some plan to introduce a layered set of predefined contract templates to cover initial access to data, technical evaluation and volume licensing of IP cores.
Members suggest that with shrinking product-development cycles the negotiation of IP licensing is frequently delaying projects and jeopardizing sales.
Travers said the DWGs will continue to work during the second quarter on formats for online databases, layered contract templates and the specification for a secure IT platform through which to deliver VCX services.