Kay Das is an R&D manager based in Singapore at an STMicroelectronics research center there, and China's push to develop its own standards for graphics processing, third-generation cell phones and other areas is causing him to learn fast about China's intellectual-property policies.
About 60 people work in research and development for ST in Singapore, and another 80 in China.
ST has licensed China's internally developed IP for 3G phones, and Das said China is "very concerned about its own IP," and requires that companies like ST sign detailed nondisclosure agreements aimed at protecting its home-grown algorithms. That concern for its own IP bodes well for China's intention to protect the IP of non-Chinese companies, he said.
Das said IP protection is "a huge challenge" in China, especially given the mobility of the people working there. "There is a huge potential for leakage as people move around," Das said. Singapore has an excellent legal system and has emphasized IP protection. China's IP and legal system "are coming up fast. China knows it has got to be able to respect IP or no one will be willing to bring in valuable IP to China."
China's AVS standard, intended to substitute for MPEG encoding, is another case in point. "The penalties are strong in the agreements we've signed to get access to the IP," he said, adding that "there were some clauses that we didn't like."
The case of China's push for its own wireless-LAN standard is far more troubling, said Dale Ford, who manages the semiconductor research service at iSuppli (El Segundo, Calif.). China's effort to create its own WLAN standard, with Wapi security, is a move in the wrong direction, Ford said. The effort seems to require U.S. companies to divulge their own valuable IP, causing both Intel and Broadcom to announce that, for now, they will not support the standard.
In the past, China compromised with Qualcomm in a dispute over China's effort to develop a Chinese version of the wideband code-division multiple access standard, which Qualcomm said infringed on its fundamental CDMA patents.
The IP disputes "make it very difficult to sustain a healthy trade environment" with China, Ford said in a presentation last week in San Francisco at the Embedded Systems Conference.
David Lammers covers SoC process equipment. Contact him at email@example.com.