I received a plethora of e-mails regarding my recent article, entitled "Opinion: Semi IP sector is a lost cause"
Then, I asked for the IP vendors themselves to respond to a set of questions. Here's one letter to the editor:
There are those that say semiconductor intellectual property (Semi IP) is a lost cause. Hmmm. Is this a serious news story about a critical milestone in electronics history or just an attempt to gain readers who have a high accident-onlookers-pity quotient?
Editors facing a deadline need headlines but the truth about Semi IP requires deeper digging. Sure, everyone knows that the standalone IP business model is one of the worst places to be in electronics, despite the handful of very successful IP companies. That's old news. What's more newsworthy is the industry-wide realization that evolutionary forces have squeezed the essence right out of electronic systems into a new standalone or "disaggregated" market.
Semiconductor IP is that essence. As the innovation and real value of every system, whether reusable or resalable, whether in high volume or never in any volume -- this essence exists in the software files which, however abstractly, describe the hardware.
What is interesting is how this IP is viewed by the industry. It is Everything and it is Nothing. It is the green luscious grass on the other side of the fence until you are in its midst (pay at the gate please) and then it is choked with weeds, unmanageable, and -- in some cases -- worth abandoning for the next field over.
It is worth billions if you have built a big enough fence around the right fields but worthless if you can't even afford traffic cones to mark off your section of the field.
What is more interesting is that we are beginning to achieve the end-goal of the EDA industry: automated creation of electronics from great ideas!
What is even MORE interesting is that people believe that enough to be sold IP that isn't ready, tools that aren't quite there yet, and solutions a year or two ahead of their time. Smart people too. Complexity is real: proven IP isn't proven in their system because they haven't even decided what their system will do let alone how it will do it. But hey, they say that over half of the great products we have today wouldn't have been created if companies knew the true cost going into it.
So let's not worry about that little bit of over-optimism -- what about the poor Semi IP vendors who are getting squeezed between their ruthless customers and the anonymous offshore engineers toiling away to replicate their golden code? Ouch. But these pioneers are realizing, some the hard way, that there are opportunities to go from Nothing to Everything if they drive deep enough into a market, partner carefully with companies willing and able to re-aggregate across horizontal lines, and they also protect their assets carefully.
These pioneers realize that it is only partially about setting up shop with their "Great Ideas for Sale" and more about organizing timely solutions across company boundaries.
Lost cause? Yes, if you can not integrate Semi IP with services or solutions or end-products that capture the imagination. But not a lost cause if you can see all the value that lies fallow across the industry, in the corners of dead project files, in the corners of your mind and to be captured from late-night sessions with like-minded engineers!
But organizing this IP with and through and around customers and partners in this highly disaggregated and global market is possible like no other time before. That is not a lost cause -- it is an exciting potential for entrepreneurial engineers and the hazy dawn of a new age of opportunity.