December 03, 2007
Noble Grenoble – Savage & The Golden Age of IP
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Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor

by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
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The southeast of France may have changed a bit since the early part of the First Millennium when the city of Grenoble sported the name
Gratianopolis in honor of the Roman emperor Gratian. Since that time, the region’s been Burgundian, Carolingian, Austrian and French. Today, it’s home to an extensive technology community, several major universities specializing in science, engineering, and management, a lot of Olympic-caliber skiing, and a téléphérique. One thing hasn’t changed, however. It’s still cold in December.

If my Vista desktop gadget can be believed, at this writing it’s 0 degrees Celsius in Grenoble. Given that fact, why would anyone in their right mind leave balmy Northern California, as I’m about to do, and travel for hours and hours to reach such a remote and chilly city at the foot of the Alps? The answer is simple: The Design & Reuse Center is in Grenoble and every December hundreds of people converge there to celebrate All Things IP.

For 16 years in a row, the
D&R IP Conference and Exhibition has been a lynchpin in the annual rhythm of meetings and confabs that define the IP industry. This year’s conference takes place on December 5th and 6th, and for the first time I will be there. I’m moderating a panel on the 6th that includes a keynote from OneSpin Founder and CTO
Wolfram Büttner, and an hour-long discussion with Infineon’s
Steve Neill, STMicro’s
Olivier Haller, Certess’
Mark Hampton, and Cadence’s
Eric Panu. Hopefully, these gentlemen will have good news for our audience as they answer the question: “Highest Quality IP: Dream or Reality?”

Of course, there are plenty of other events and keynotes taking place during the 2-day IP07 conference, not the least being a panel on December 5th moderated by IPextreme CEO
Warren Savage. Warren’s panel will include Mentor Graphic’s
Bill Martin, Improv Systems’
Victor Berman, OCP-IP’s
Ian Mackintosh, and Synopsys/SPIRIT’s
Pierre Bricaud. These gentlemen will be asking: “Who Should be the Standards Torch Bearer for IP?” Given recent developments with VSIA and IEEE, this panel promises to be among the most interesting of the conference.

I had a chance recently to speak by phone with Warren Savage about his upcoming panel, as well as many of the concepts (and mis-concepts) related to IP. I learned quite a bit during the call and expect to learn even more in attending the panel.


Warren Savage & The Golden Age of IP

The way Warren Savage tells it, we’re on the eve of The Golden Age of IP and he’s probably in a position to know. Savage’s company, IPextreme, specializes in helping customers bring their internally developed IP to market.

Warren was sitting in his offices in Campbell, California, when we spoke. He told me his business is doing exceptionally well, plus he explained how he got into this particular niche in the first place: “I’ve been in the IP business for a long time. In fact, I helped start the DesignWare business unit at Synopsys in the mid-1990’s. When I left Synopsys, I was inspired to start IPextreme because I saw a need in the industry for the services we provide. The company has just come off of a record quarter, which is a great way to be celebrating our 4th anniversary in January 2008.

“IPextreme is like a record label for semiconductor companies. We work with the engineering groups within our customer organizations to help them produce IP in a format that can be licensed outside of the company. Customers like Freescale and Infineon work with us to identify their key IP assets, and then we serve as their exclusive licensing agent. From a legal standpoint, most of the licensing is done using a standardized form that we’ve developed over many years of working with IP. It’s a reasonable and standardized license that pretty much all of our customers are very comfortable with.”

Savage declined to give further details regarding his business relationship with his customers: “We consider the format and wording of our licenses, in conjunction with our business model, to be our crown jewels. So of course, we don’t expose it to the media. Suffice it to say that only our partners know the details and the financial arrangements included in the model.

“It’s truly our secret sauce,” he added with a chuckle.

Propriety details notwithstanding, Warren and I launched into a lengthy Q&A about the current state of affairs in the IP industry.


Q – If IP is the wave of the future, why hasn't it caught on as vigorously as one would intuitively expect it to?

Warren Savage – That anyone would even ask such a question is intriguing, because today IP is a fundamental part of the way the semiconductor industry works. This year alone, IP will be a $1.5 billion industry, quickly approaching 50 percent of the entire EDA market. Yet, the IP industry is less than half as old as EDA. In fact, 60-to-70 percent of the customers we deal with use some kind of third-party or internally developed IP. Add to that, the fact that the number of customer designs is shrinking – we’ll be down to single-digit growth in new designs within 10 years, or even 5 according to some – and it’s clear that the industry stands on
the verge of The Golden Age of IP.

Q – So if the use of IP has actually caught on as a widespread, standard practice, who doesn’t have the eyes to see that this is the case today?

Warren Savage – We’ve definitely got some problems on the journalistic side of things. When I got involved in IP in the mid-1990’s, IP was really a hot industry. Those were the dot-com days and everybody was getting wrapped up in an irrational exuberance about IP. A lot of bad companies came online as a result, and most died in the first part of this decade along with the recession in high tech. Meanwhile, that same recession caused a huge drop in design starts, which in turn created a lot of pressure on companies to be much more careful in [their investment practices].

So many companies going out of business 5 or 6 years ago sent a message to the journalists that IP is dead. In reality, we saw it as a consolidation within the industry, not the death of the industry itself. For instance, when I was at Synopsys we bought various IP companies, while others were snapping up IP companies as well. That was tough for the media to understand at the time and they still may not understand, particularly because you can’t touch, hear, see, or feel IP. I refer to IP as the Dark Matter of the Semiconductor Universe. It’s big, it’s present, and it’s mostly invisible. [Savage chuckled]

Q – Is the fact that IP is invisible an advantage to users?

Warren Savage – Absolutely. We find a lot of the time that IP users don’t really want to talk about what IP they’re buying. They want to keep that information under wraps, because they don’t want other people to know what technology they’re incorporating into their chips.

But also – IP is boring and it’s old news, which is another reason why it may not get extraordinary amounts of journalistic attention. For instance, that a company licensed some IP two years ago for a chip they’re announcing today is not news. That time lag between when the IP licensing deal was signed and the customer’s willingness to talk about it [makes for a somewhat boring story in the press].

Q – So is the IP stale by the time the chip it‘s sitting in reaches the market?

Warren Savage – No, it’s not stale, but the story is still boring. There are certain staples that you have to have on a chip – memories, standard interfaces, etc. The IP that’s on a chip is not really big, shockingly new technology. It’s mostly very meat-and-potatoes type of stuff.

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-- Peggy Aycinena, Contributing Editor.


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