SAN JOSE, Calif. – Brett Fox, CEO of fabless chip company Touchstone Semiconductor Inc. (Milpitas, Calif.), says his company has already moved on from being just a second-source supplier of analog ICs. The company is in developing rapidly and getting ready to introduce its own power conversion ICs aimed at universal operation and wake-up for systems that go into sleep modes.
The startup, founded in 2010 with $12 million in Series A funding from Opus Capital and Khosla Ventures as primary investors, was formed by engineers and managers from Maxim Integrated Products, Linear Technology and Analog Devices.
Fox – speaking with EE Times in an interview on the fringes of the DESIGN West exhibition and conference last week – acknowledged that many of Touchstone's earliest chip products were intentionally datasheet-faithful alternatives to familiar analog products from Maxim Integrated Products Inc. (San Jose, Calif.).
"That was phase one. Phase two was to deliver the same functions with enhanced specifications. The third phase is to develop and deliver proprietary products that can compete with anything out there," said Fox.
In three years has built up a portfolio of more than 70 parts in the areas of amplifiers, analog-to-digital converters, comparators, voltage detectors and voltage references. Some are declared second sources for Maxim parts and some of the ADCs are alternate sources for parts from Analog Devices Inc. However, many of the products are now proprietary specifications. "Basically, we do ultra low power, high performance analog," said Fox.
Is Fox concerned that a startup that has copied the functions of other companies' products – at least for some of its portfolio - will draw legal fire and not have a clear advantage over incumbent competition?
Fox said that by working with the foundry and the assembly and test house Touchstone has improved on the ability to supply customers. Between the foundry and packaging stations Touchstone holds large numbers of wafers in die banks. These are released to packaging in a steady flow but the response time for an exceptional order would still be only four or five weeks, Fox said. The ability to supply customers with products on demand is a key benefit, he added.
Brett Fox, CEO of Touchstone Semiconductor, is going to the next phase in building out the company
On the matter of intellectual property Fox responded that to keep IP clean of allegations of infringement Touchstone develops its own circuits from scratch. And the fact that Touchstone works closely with its foundry Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (Hsinchu, Taiwan) on 0.18-micron CMOS also means it is at no disadvantage in terms of manufacturing process.
And for three years Touchstone has been diligently filing its own patent applications. "The best defense is a good offense so it is important to build up your own IP," said Fox.