Still, the question remains clear: Is Big Blue is handing over technology to China without thinking about the possible consequences?
On one hand, IBM is free to find new intellectual-property (IP) customers. In fact, IBM is a major IP player in semiconductors. For example, the company has licensed key technology to its process technology alliance. Members of IBM's ''fab club'' include GlobalFoundries, Infineon, NEC, Samsung, ST and Toshiba.
On the other hand, China's SMIC was able to gain access to IBM's 45-nm bulk CMOS technology in 2007. SMIC is not an official member of IBM's ''fab club.'' Still, it's unlikely that SMIC would have been unable to develop its own, in-house 45-nm technology -- in a timely manner.
Thanks to IBM, the Chinese foundry vendor will ramp the 45-nm technology next year--a possible bad sign for its rivals. Chartered, TSMC and UMC are just beginning to ship their respective 45-/40-nm wafers.
The 45-/40-nm node is still a fledging foundry market. SMIC, which is behind in technology, may end up catching its rivals--or worse.
SMIC, in turn, could bomb the prices at that node just to gain share. On the other hand, its rivals may also launch a price war -- just to keep SMIC at bay. Perhaps no foundry will make money at the 45-/40-nm node, despite pouring millions of dollars in R&D in the arena.
IBM's deal with CSMC is less threatening to the market. But like SMIC, CSMC is behind in technology and is a minor player in the foundry business. It was really a non-factor. But with the IBM deal, CSMC can at least jump into the conversation in the fledging analog foundry space.