MADISON, Wis. — Spansion Inc. is playing hardball.
In addition to the company's on-going legal battle with Taiwan's Macronix, Spansion is now turning up the heat on anyone -- memory companies and system vendors -- misusing its technology without getting consensus from the company. EE Times has learned that Spansion has recently sent letters to a list of memory companies and non-memory end users, warning them on potential patent infringement.
"We will not forget or forgive," said Ali Pourkeramati, senior vice president of strategic alliances and business development at Spansion, in a recent interview with EE Times.
Asked about the list of companies Spansion is squeezing, Pourkeramati declined to name names. However, he added, "They know who they are, because they already received letters from us."
Renesas vs. Spansion
Renesas Electronics could be one of those companies. Leveraging what's believed to be its crown jewel 40-nanometer embedded flash technology, Renesas has been working with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to develop an embedded flash-based MCU platform licensable to other semiconductor suppliers.
Spansion's Pourkeramati noted during the interview, "If Renesas is doing eFlash MCU, they must come to us," implying potential infringement by Renesas on Spansion's embedded Charge Trap (eCT) technology.
A Renesas Electronics spokeswoman was unable to respond to EE Times's inquiry by press time, noting that an executive in charge is traveling.
As more MCU vendors look to embed larger memory inside their logic designs, both Renesas's eFlash and Spansion's eCT are destined to form a new battleground for IP battles.
Spansion made it clear that the company today is very serious about its IP protection. "We've got to make sure that whoever is using our IPs without license needs to be stopped," said Pourkeramati.
Technology licensing and heavy execution on its IP protection is "neither a side business nor an opportunistic strategy" for Spansion, he asserted.
Pourkeramati, a former CTO at Spansion, has been responsible for corporate business development since May 2012. His mission also includes licensing strategy. Over the last six months, "we've been creating a big team" for the enforcement of Spansion's IP protection, he noted.
Spansion has put together licensing programs for both flash and eCT for embedded MCUs.
In the realm of flash technology in memory products, the company's floating gate technology has been licensed to XMC, a foundry based in Wuhan, China. Meanwhile, Charge Trap (CT) technology for flash memory already has several licensees including Panasonic, Elpida (for NAND flash), and Macronix.
As for eCT in logic products, Spansion has licensed the technology at 40 nm to UMC (United Microelectronics Corp.), a foundry based in Taiwan. Pourkeramati says Spansion's eCT is open to license for other chip vendors. However, "anyone interested in the technology first has to come to us, and their products need to be fabricated by UMC."
Spansion is also an MCU, since its acquisition last summer of Fujitsu Semiconductor's MCU and analog businesses. Spansion is planning to release eCT technology in embedded MCUs in 2015.
Asked whether any rival MCU vendors would ever consider licensing eCT technology from Spansion while Spansion is also their competition, Pourkeramati said, "We will pick and choose who will get to license eCT." Spansion is confident that the company's eCT is particularly attractive to embedded MCUs, because it is modified and optimized for integration with logic. The technology enables the memory cells to scale very well with the advances in logic design, according to Spansion.