Dot-bomb, nuclear winter, call it what you will, the economic travails of the past three years have rocked Silicon Valley to its core. As business conditions slowly improve, it's worth asking whether the South Bay will continue to exert the dominance that has earned it near-mythic status as the world's epicenter of semiconductor and electronics IP design.
Given the multitude of high-tech companies that remain in and around the Rte. 101/280 breadbasket, it's highly unlikely Silicon Valley will lose its well-deserved reputation overnight. At the same time, however, it's
hard to miss the fact that several technology initiatives are beginning to bloom elsewhere.
In Germany, for example, leading carmakers like BMW and Volkswagen are working with auto systems manufacturers like Bosch and Siemens VDO to develop a software standard aimed--for now, at least--exclusively at German vehicles. The goal is to rein in the rapidly escalating microcontroller count of today's automobiles while delivering the engine controls, safety features, and "infotainment" options that consumers are demanding.
This effort isn't being driven by Silicon Valley, or Detroit for that matter. And while the proponents of the so-called AutoSAR standard say their plan eventually is to invite U.S. automakers to participate, the impetus for change has a decidely European flavor.
Meanwhile, Japan is trying to reassert itself by capitalizing on a wireless communications infrastructure that is years ahead that of the United States. At the recent CEATEC conference in Tokyo, several leading Japanese electronics companies vowed to pull out of their collective funk by masterminding an IT revolution that unites handheld computing and wireless systems in a "ubiquitous" platform.
And in what may be the most overt display of disdain for the IP domination wielded by U.S. and European companies, China has founded separate programs to develop independent standards for networked appliances, wireless communications, and consumer electronics like DVD players. The stated mission is to free China's domestic technology industry from Western IP royalties--not to mention the legal headaches that arise from claims of IP theft.
Of course, none of these initiatives will necessarily undermine the influence of Silicon Valley, which still has ample resources to guide global technology development. In each of the aforementioned cases, however, it's interesting to note that the technology in question has a specific regional objective, with the U.S. market, at best, as a second-order concern.
So is Silicon Valley's light burning a little less bright these days, or is it just that the rest of world is becoming better illuminated?
E-mail comments to Andrew MacLellan at email@example.com.