SHANGHAI, China Intellectual-property theft in China isn't going away anytime soon. That's the bad news. The good news is that there are still plenty of ways for chip designers and manufacturers like Intel to get in on China's growth without getting mugged.
All IP theft is not the same in China. Just because pirated DVDs, Gucci bags and Rolexes abound doesn't mean that chip makers will see their goods hawked on the street as well. Many companies have safeguards in place to prevent IP theft.
For instance, at Chipnuts Technology Inc. in Shanghai, engineers gain access to the company's designs-in-progress only through isolated servers. "There is no way for anyone to take this stuff out of here. We made sure to invest in that technology," said John Yu, the company's chief operating officer.
At ARM China, the company is willing to give its clients soft cores, but only if the customers have been vetted. "You have to make sure that their interests are in line with yours," said Jun Tan, president of ARM China. "If they bring original IP to the design, then they won't want to see that stolen."
That's not to say all is rosy. In tech, Microsoft Corp. suffers the most from piracy in China. And in recent years, there have been some nasty allegations of IP theft in hardware.
Foundry Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. settled a dispute with rival Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. over the theft of process recipes. And academia in China suffered last year after a professor at Jiaotong University was fired for stealing IP from Freescale Semiconductor Inc.
Until China more comprehensively proves its commitment to IP protection, Intel will likely remain cautious about how much advanced technology it brings in. "Intel is still not ready to release any of its most leading-edge tricks to China. And Intel's ex-pat employees do not have access to Intel's most advanced developments from the U.S.," said Joanne Itow, an analyst at Semico Research Corp.
It would be a stretch to think a local Chinese IC producer could steal Intel's MPU secrets and then compete with Intel in processors, said Bill McClean, of IC Insights.
The U.S. government will also keep watch on what its high-tech companies are doing in China. McClean wryly points out that even though most U.S. congresspersons wouldn't know an IC from a light bulb, "when they hear that U.S.-company-developed leading-edge 'microelectronics' has a chance to be stolen in communist China, believe me, sirens go off."