The jump from academia to the commercial EDA world happened quickly for three graduate students from the University of California at Berkeley, who developed technology and a business plan that resulted in a design for manufacturability (DFM) startup that was just purchased by Cadence Design Systems.
Cadence has confirmed its purchase of DFM startup CommandCAD, a provider of IC layout optimization technology that claims to boost yields and improve optical proximity correction (OPC). The confirmation followed a report in John Cooley's Deepchip "Wiretap" column about a possible Cadence purchase of CommandCAD.
Cadence issued a short statement and declined further comment. "We can confirm that Cadence has acquired CommandCAD," the statement read. "They have some interesting technology that is complementary to ongoing DFM solutions being developed at Cadence. We will not be providing any further details right now, but will update as and when there is more to report."
According to Kurt Keutzer, technical advisor to CommandCAD and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at U.C. Berkeley, CommandCAD's origins go back to work done by Frank Gennari, CommandCAD founder and CTO, while he was a graduate student. Gennari started working on the identification of layout patterns that cause yield problems.
Gennari then teamed up with Matt Moskewicz, then one of Keutzer's graduate students and now CommandCAD chief architect. "They felt they had made a pretty significant breakthrough in computational efficiency in their ability to identify pattern families," Keutzer said.
Gennari and Moskewicz then worked with MBA student Ya-Chieh Lai, now president and COO of CommandCAD, to enter a business plan competition at U.C. Berkeley, Keutzer said. They won an award, and attracted the attention of Martin Lefebvre, former CEO of Cadabra Design Automation, who was at U.C. Berkeley as part of an "Executive in Residence" program.
Lefebvre helped the budding company raise some seed capital, and joined CommandCAD as its CEO at its formation in late 2005. Lefebvre did not return calls seeking comment on the Cadence acquisition.
CommandCAD founders had experience in industry as well as academia. Lai did design work at IBM, Texas Instruments, and MicroDisplay Corp., and was part of the marketing team at Samsung Semiconductor. Gennari was a CAD developer at IBM. And Moskewicz worked for IBM Research.
"CommandCAD solves a particular problem and solves it very well," Keutzer said. Its core technology, he said, can find "families" of patterns in IC physical layouts that can cause yield problems. That's a slow process with today's design rule checking tools, he said. A side benefit is the ability to decompose layouts into regular patterns. This could have applications in such areas as lithography simulation, Keutzer said.
The technology, embodied in a tool called Eclair, claims to consider the interactions between all the shapes within a given optical radius of influence. CommandCAD has targeted both fabs and design teams. In addition to eliminating patterns that may cause yield problems, Keutzer said, the company's technology can make OPC run faster and improve the quality of OPC.
"I think it's a great example and a model for a new type of EDA company that focuses on core technology and stays very small, and still manages to produce a product," Keutzer said.