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One EDA Company Embraces IP in an Extreme Way

Silvaco’s acquisition of IPextreme points to the increasing importance of IP in EDA.

By John Blyler, Editorial Director

One of the most promising directions for future electronic design automation (EDA) growth lies in semiconductor intellectual property (IP) technologies, noted Laurie Balch in her pre-DAC (previously Gary Smith) analysis of the EDA market. As if to confirm this observation, EDA tool provider Silvaco just announced the acquisition of IPextreme.

At first glance, this merger may seems like an odd match. Why would an EDA tool vendor who specializes in the highly technical analog and mixed signal chip design space want to acquire an IP discovery, management and security company? The answer lies in the past.

According to Warren Savage, former CEO of IPextreme, the first inklings of a foundation for the future merger began at DAC 2015.  The company had a suite of tools and an ecosystem that enabled IP discovery, commercialization and management. What they lacked was a strong sale channel and supporting infrastructure.

Conversely, Silvaco’s EDA tools were used by other companies to create customized analog chip IP.  This has been the business model for most of the EDA industry where EDA companies engineer and market their own IP. Only a small portion of the IP created by this model have been made commercially available to all.

According to David Dutton, the CEO of Silvaco, the acquisition of IPextreme’s tools and technology will allow them to unlock their IP assets and deliver this underused IP to the market. Further, this strategic acquisition is part of Silvaco’s 3-year plan to double its revenues by focusing – in part – on strengthening it’s IP offerings in the IOT and automotive vertical markets.

Savage will now lead the IP business for Silvaco. The primary assets from IPextreme will now be part of Silvaco, including:

  • Xena – A platform for managing both the business and technical aspects of semiconductor IP.
  • Constellations – A collective of independent, likeminded IP companies and industry partners that collaborate at both the marketing and engineering levels.
  • Coldfire processor IP and various interface cores.
  • “IP Fingerprinting” – A package, which allows IP owners to “fingerprint” their IP so that their customers can easily discover it in their chip designs and others using ”DNA analysis” software without the need for GDSII tags.

The merger should be mutually beneficial for both companies. For example, IPextreme and its Constellation partners will now have access to a worldwide sales force and associated infrastructure resources.

On the other hand, Silvaco will gain the tools and expertise to commercialize their untapped IP cores. Additionally, this will complement the existing efforts of customers who use Silvaco tools to make their own IP.

As the use of IP grows, so will the need for security. To date, it has been difficult for companies to tell the brand and type of IP in their chip designs. This problem can arise when engineers unknowingly “copy and paste” IP from one project to another. The “IP fingerprinting” technology developed by IPextreme creates a digital representation of all the files in a particular IP package. This representation is entered into a Core store that can then be used by other semiconductor companies to discover what internal and third-party IP is contained in their chip designs.  This provides a way for companies to protect against the accidental reuse of their IP.

According to Savage, there is no way to reverse engineer a chip design from the fingerprinted digital representation.

Many companies seem to have a disconnect between the engineering, legal and business side of their company. This disconnect causes a problem when engineers use IP without any idea of the licensing agreements attached to that IP.

“The problem is gaining the attention of big IP providers who are worried about the accidental reuse of third-party IP,” notes Savage. “Specifically, it represents a liability exposure problem.”

For smaller IP providers, having their IP fingerprint in the CORE store could potentially mean increased revenue as more instances of their IP become discoverable.

In the past, IP security measures have been implemented with limited success with hard and soft tags. (see, “Long Standards, Twinkie IP, Macro Trends, and Patent Trolls”) But tagging chip designs in this way was never really implemented in the major EDA place and route tools, like Synopsys’s IC Compiler. According to Savage, even fabs like TSMC don’t follow the Accellera tagging system, but have instead created their on security mechanisms.

For added security, IPextreme’s IP Fingerprinting technology does support the tagging information, notes Savage.

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