SANTA CRUZ, Calif. A recent court ruling calls into question a longtime EDA practice designed to prevent publication of embarrassing benchmark results. The New York Supreme Court ruling, which applies to a security-software provider and doesn't mention EDA specifically, calls into question the wording of software licenses that restrict benchmarks or reviews.
But advocates of "free speech" for EDA users shouldn't break out the champagne just yet. The ruling has no immediate effect outside of New York, and according to Ted Chan, chief IP attorney at Synopsys, is not directly applicable to the business-to-business license agreements employed for EDA tools.
The New York ruling prevents Network Associates, a provider of security software, from using its end-user license agreements to ban product reviews or benchmark tests. The case originated after Network World Fusion magazine printed an unfavorable review of the company's "Gauntlet" firewall software, after which Network Associates accused the magazine of violating its licensing agreement.
The state attorney general filed suit against Network Associates last year. "Such clauses censoring speech and criticism chill not only consumers' speech, but also prevent academics, consumer advocates, and technology experts alike from openly and freely discussing software products," said New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer in a statement.
John Cooley, moderator of the E-Mail Synopsys User's Group (ESNUG), has been complaining about prohibitions on EDA benchmarking for years.
"Either they prohibit benchmarking or allow it in such a way that you keep it very, very quiet," Cooley said. "It's sad. You can find out more about a $9 movie than you can about a $90,000 EDA tool. This is America, and we used to fight wars over things like this."
Cooley, who has run anonymous benchmarks in ESNUG mailings, said the New York ruling is "a cause for celebration that goes towards the spirit of the first amendment." He noted, however, that EDA vendors haven't actually sued users for divulging information.
Synopsys' Chan said the New York ruling relates to "shrink-wrapped licensed consumer software," not to business-to-business software contracts that are typically negotiated with the assistance of legal counsel. He also noted that Synopsys licensing agreements are generally governed by California law. "We do not believe the decision will affect current EDA business practices," he said.
"Like other EDA companies, we do typically restrict the publication of benchmark results," Chan said. "This is a standard industry practice which came about because benchmark results taken out of context do not provide a valid measurement of the value of such complex products as EDA tools."
Cadence Design Systems declined comment on the ruling, and a representative would not even say whether or not Cadence's license agreement restricts benchmark publication. A Mentor Graphics spokesman said there is nothing in Mentor's license that restricts benchmarks.