MADISON, Wis. — Chip companies serving the automotive industry know exactly where the next-generation MCU battle will be played out: high-performance MCUs with fast-access flash memory at 40-nanometer process.
To date, there are two key players in the upcoming battle: Renesas Electronics' 40-nm embedded flash technology and Spansion's embedded Charge Trap (eCT) at 40-nm.
Carmakers depend on hundreds of MCUs in their vehicles for monitoring, processing, and controlling such mission-critical functions as driving, steering, braking, and enabling safety and comfort features. It's essential for MCUs designed inside electronic control units to feature large internal flash memories, since they must store an increasing load of control algorithms and application code. Even more important, though, is the speed of the on-chip flash memory. If it's too slow, high-speed logic circuits in MCUs can't work at their full potential.
Suppliers planning to play in the high-performance advanced MCU market without their own flash memory technology have several questions on their minds. Which fast-access flash memory technology should we use? Who has the technology? Where's the foundry? But they might have to add one more question: How can we pull this off without getting caught in the middle of a potential IP battle between Spansion and Renesas?
To be clear, an IP fight over embedded flash hasn't officially broken out between the two companies. There is some smoke, but so far there's no fire.
Ali Pourkeramati, senior vice president of strategic alliances and business development at Spansion, first raised the possibility of Renesas' eFlash MCU infringing on Spansion's eCT in an interview with EE Times this week. He said that his company was turning up the heat on anyone -- memory companies and system vendors -- misusing its technology without permission. Spansion recently sent letters to a list of memory companies and nonmemory end users, warning them of potential patent infringement.
It's one thing for Spansion to strengthen its own IP strategy. It would be another thing entirely if Pourkeramati's suggestion of IP infringement were a preemptive strike, with Spansion attempting to discourage others from adopting Renesas eFlash.
A Renesas spokeswoman in Tokyo said Renesas was not one of the companies cautioned by Spansion. "We have not heard anything from Spansion."