Attending the Intellectual Property Symposium at the Fairmont in San Jose has been a great experience. It served to provide information that has consolidated intuitions I have had for some time about the world of IP, and also gave me new insights on the industry.
I now have a much better understanding of the reasons behind the debate regarding whether or not IP belongs in EDA. My approach had always been that since IP blocks are a necessary component of ESL design, the development and commerce of the blocks is an EDA activity. But having listened to many speakers explore the legal and financial aspects of the industry, I now understand that both vendors and users of IP must use methods that are different from those in traditional EDA for transacting business. Of course the methods are also very different from those used in the semiconductor industry, so I am now leaning toward the position that IP is its own industry.
In the last two days I have learned more about patents than I thought there was to learn. Speakers in the legal and business track discussed the process required to obtain a patent and more importantly the process to be followed to license the patent to a company. If I had any entrepreneurial dreams of becoming a millionaire by licensing my invention to a big company, I now can kick back and tell myself that given the probability of success, my time is much better spent on the golf course, especially since I do not have the amount of money required to pursue the extremely protracted legal and business negotiations required to achieve the goal.
The technical track also had new information for me. The most important thing every designer must learn is that any change to a third party IP has significant consequences on the project schedule. Peter Hirt, of STMicroelectronics, shared with the audience the fact that internalizing an IP block they had licensed from a third party vendor cost the company six times the amount they had paid for the original license. Most of the cost was incurred in developing a verification environment for the block that was compatible with the one used by the engineers on the team.
In a talk titled "Achieving Maximum Silicon Reuse: Lessons Learned from Benchmarking 1,200+ SoC Projects" Ron Collett showed the impact of changes to third party IP on schedules, using actual performance measurements from real designs that had reached commercial production. A 10% change spread among all of the third party blocks in a given design resulted in more than doubling the development schedule, something that is not intuitive. The same magnitude of impact was also reported by other speakers during the Symposium.
Mark Gisi, of Wind River Systems, talked about the pitfalls of using third party software, especially Open Source software, in developing a proprietary product. Developers are often not aware of the rules surrounding the various licensing mechanisms used in Open Source, and the omission of due diligence can be quite costly, both in financial and in public relations terms, for a company.
I no longer consider a IP block the equivalent of a standard part of old: it is more than that, in technical, financial, and legal terms. Although it may be obvious that companies must educate managers and engineers by providing an understanding of the legal issues regarding reuse of both soft and hard IP, it is also clear that education on the technical uses of IP is required. By attempting to improve an IP block a development team might doom the project to failure because the resulting schedule slip can result in missing the market window for the product.