Providers of semiconductor intellectual property reveal philosophies on protecting the secret sauce.
The focus on intellectual property continues. Last time, we looked at the question of who verifies the IP. Today we look at a very different question. How do IP providers protect themselves? I posed the question to some industry leaders and here are some of their responses:
Michael Munsey, director of product management, Semiconductor Solutions, Dassault Systèmes
"This may be the single largest area for improvement in semiconductor IP and the issue of protection is even larger than just for IP providers. IP integrators also need to know where their IP was sourced from and whether they have the rights to use that IP. For example, I may receive a piece of IP from a partner to only use in a design that I am doing for that partner. Once integrated, I need to make sure that the larger system containing that IP is not used in other designs. My partner may require that I provide documentation that shows how that IP is protected. IP protection needs to be part of the supply chain, including not only protection for the IP source, but protections and reporting for access to the IP. Audit trails are needed to indicate where the IP is used, and guarantee that it is only used in approved places."
John Koeter, vice president of marketing, Solutions Group, Synopsys
"There are multiple avenues to protect IP but the most prevalent is contractual protection with audit rights, which is standard in the industry."
Susan Peterson, product marketing group director and Tom Hackett, senior product marketing manager, Cadence
"Contractual protections along with developing tagging technology does provide protection for IP providers. Cadence relies on our contracts to ensure our rights are protected. Additionally, our customers are sophisticated technology providers who understand the value of protecting IP rights and aid us in ensuring our rights are protected."
Mike Gianfagna, vice president of corporate marketing, Atrenta
"IP tagging holds a lot of promise to address this issue -- it requires collaboration by a lot of folks in the IP ecosystem."
Eran Briman, vice president of marketing, CEVA
"Because of all of the additional areas required to deliver a successful processor IP, theft is not as much a problem as it may be for standard IPs. Tools, software, etc., are needed to get the most out of processor IPs, so having the architecture alone would not be enough. At CEVA we validate our licensees before we commit to work with them and verify their internal IP protection systems and methodologies. Also, we can provide protected DSP models or even hard macros to some end markets if necessary."
Jacek Hanke, Piotr Kandora, Tomasz Krzyzak, Digital Core Design
"The problem of IP theft will be always an issue because there are companies who don't care about it. We've seen a variety of approaches to protect against theft such as licensing the IP at a site level or do business only with trusted companies. From our perspective, almost 15 years company's market experience brought solutions, which seem to be sufficient to protect us. Some of them are known, for example: circuit extraction, netlist generation, or data mining algorithms. There could be also included security tagging system using side channel attack techniques. But most of the techniques are companies' 'know how' -- and they are protected almost as strong as the [Digital Core Design's] IP Core itself.
"It is very difficult to prevent illegitimate uses of IP cores whether it's intentional or unintended. The identification of IP cores becomes the last means for any IP core providers to prove illegitimate usages of their IP cores. Luckily every [Digital Core Design] IP Core is being sold for separate license agreement, which protect the IP and is a first step to execute the vendor’s property rights. There are also highly specialized companies that provide sophisticated solutions. They are good enough to provide an independent analysis which can be a proof when property rights are violated. Thankfully, IP thefts are just a margin of the whole IP business."