Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
Fingerprinting IP: IPextreme’s Motive, Means, Opportunity
October 15th, 2015 by Peggy Aycinena
The company has come up with a simple, elegant process whereby IP blocks can be assigned a fingerprint, an unalterable bit of code that can be attached to the block and stays with it as that IP passes along into a chip design. The fingerprint then allows that IP to be detected, using IPextreme’s DNA analysis tool, by everyone involved with that chip going forward. Where everyone includes not just the engineers, but the lawyers and accountants in semiconductor companies who need to verify that a particular IP block in a commercial design has been legally procured and paid for.
Because, ultimately IPextreme’s fingerprinting scheme is about above-board licensing of IP, and guaranteeing legitimate revenue for the companies that make third-party IP and design reuse a reality. It’s that simple and elegant.
Warren Savage, Founder and CEO of the IPextreme, told me in a phone call related to his company’s October 13th announcement: “As a result of customers’ engagement with our Xena platform [IPextreme’s proprietary IP reuse platform], we struck on an interesting idea for a way the IP community could basically create a digital fingerprint representation of a piece IP, and then use it in a way that the semiconductor companies could keep that IP in their chip design databases.”
“[Our strategy] solves a problem that hasn’t been solved in any other way, in EDA tools or any design management software. Using our [tools] means that you can go to a chip database, pick out a chip for analysis, and accurately say: ‘We detected this IP in your chip.’
“Almost more important than tracking IP use on the engineering side of things, the [fingerprinting capability we are offering] assists with the legal and financial compliance side of things. That is why this is not an EDA compliance thing, but a corporate compliance product.”
“So although engineers benefit,” Warren continued, “the primary beneficiaries are companies worried that they may be using IP that’s not been paid for, or that they have inappropriate or inadequate licenses to use.
“A fundamental problem in the IP area is that the legal and financial people will procure IP for their engineering people. But that IP often goes into people’s own private directories for use on a project, and then can be copied from project to project. At that point, the legal and/or financial [people lose] good visibility into the IP use [and problems emerge].
“It’s a process that happens in every company, even the good ones. They have no way of tracking [over time] where the IP they’ve purchased is being placed, and by whom.”
“You’re saying that even when there’s a good faith effort on the part of IP customers, they can lose track of IP usage?” I asked.
“Yes,” Warren confirmed.
“Look, there are terabytes of data in these design databases. The legal experts [in the customer companies] don’t keep track, and the engineering professionals don’t understand the legal implications of copying IP from one project to the next. There’s a gap there, and it’s a serious one.”
Warren cited an example: “One of our customers, more than 10 years ago, had been shipping a product [with our third-party IP in it] for many years. Eventually, that company was sold to a larger company, and then to an even larger company.
“Although we had been receiving royalty reports for a number of years for that particular product, [one day we received] a report from the new, larger company telling us they were excited to see that our IP was being used in six different product part numbers that [we had no record of].
“We said we regretted having to tell the company that they didn’t have a contract for using our IP in most of those product parts. The company was surprised and said they would get back to us.
“They then dug up their records, looked at the original contract, and realized they did not have the appropriate licenses [for widespread use]. They were anxious to makes things right, so going forward they sent royalty reports on schedule every month [and the situation was corrected].”
Warren said this example clearly indicates that even when a customer has the best intentions, the bandwidth for tracking IP is very limited and is made even worse by consolidation.
There are rarely formal systems in place, laptops that contain spreadsheets tracking IP usage on a particular project are retired or misplaced as employees move on, notes are lost, and records of the dozens of products that contain some particular IP fall into a black hole.
“So this is more than the gap between engineering and legal/financial within a customer organization,” I said. “It’s actually more fundamental; it’s about guaranteeing revenue for the IP providers.”
“Absolutely,” Warren confirmed.
“We run entire operations on our Xena platform, we tie contracts together, and connect companies,” Warren said. “That experience [inspired us] to create a representation of our customers’ IP without revealing anything about that IP, a fingerprint that says who you are, but not what you are.
“Working hard over many months, we developed a technique to create this fingerprint. And using the same technology, we developed a way to create a fingerprint of an entire chip. The ‘DNA analysis’ tool we then developed takes the chip fingerprint and puts it up against the fingerprint of a block of IP to see if that IP is inside that chip.”
“It sounds extremely innovative,” I said. “A simple, elegant solution for tracking IP use.”
Warren agreed: “As far as I know, it’s never been done before, but it does make sense. We talked to many companies this past June at DAC about our work on the prototype, and they were all so intrigued we turned all of our resources on the project and cranked it out over the summer.”
“You would think a fingerprinting technique would have been used before this,” I commented.
Warren said, “You’re exactly right, but it’s a three-dimensional business problem. There’s more than just one thing that has to be done simultaneously to solve it, and that is what we are announcing.
“First is the fingerprinting technique itself, necessary to label a data object. Then there’s the DNA analysis software to determine which files are contained within other files, without actually having access to those files. And then there’s the need for a whole IP depository for the industry to use to check this piece of IP against that. You have to have all three of these things brought together to make the thing work.”
“Something,” he added, “that’s far more complex than anything an EDA company would think about. To make this fingerprinting thing work, you need suppliers and consumers to come together at different levels, and the ability to tie it all together. There’s just nothing like that in EDA.”
“But how do you get the entire supply chain to buy in?” I asked.
Warren answered, “It’s a matter of self-interest [for all parties involved].
“IP customers are very concerned because of the legal ramifications of somebody making a mistake. It can be very damaging to the share prices of a large, publicly traded company to discover that their engineers are using unlicensed IP.
“If you’re an IP company, you’ll do this because you want your IP detected at all times going forward. There’s some free money out there for you if you find your IP has been used without generating revenue.
“The semiconductor guys have to say IP fingerprinting is part of their buying process, and the suppliers must register their IP in our Core Store, so the DNA analysis can be detected.”
“Wait,” I said, “the Core Store? That’s a cool name.”
Warren agreed, “The Core Store is something that IPextreme has established. Check out our website, and come to the Silicon Valley IP User Event on October 20th where we’ll be talking all about it.”
“Okay,” I said, “but in truth, isn’t all of this too little, too late? Aren’t there already billions of blocks of IP out there, un-fingerprinted and being used without proper licenses, not generating revenue that should be generated?”
Warren said yes, but it’s all about looking forward: “Earlier, I mentioned the three-dimensional nature of the solution to tracking IP. A great example of something analogous to this is the iPod.
“Before the iPod, there were tons of MP3 players and all manner of companies were producing them, some cheap, some fancy, but they all just played MP3’s. And the technology existed based on CD’s for MP3, so people could share music. But people were just ripping CD’s or using the music illegally with the Napster service.
“What Apple did instead was multidimensional. They created an innovative new device that was different and more intuitive than any other device out there.
“But more importantly, they created an ecosystem with iTunes that seamlessly connected the consumer and the supplier of content with a new Apple device. It had never been done before, and yet almost overnight, it was. And that is what we feel we have accomplished here as well.
The Core Store provides an online marketplace where IP providers can, at no cost, list their IP products to a global audience of IP buyers. For IP buyers, the Core Store offers a safe, anonymous site where you can search for IP without anyone contacting you—unless you ask them to!
Core Store members can list an unlimited number of IP titles, along with all the associated collateral, at no charge. As a courtesy to the IP buyers visiting this site, the Core Store contact you only when a prospective IP buyer asks for more information about your offerings.
User our fingerprinting technology to help protect your IP from unauthorized use, without reliance on tagging or watermarking. As an IP provider, you can fingerprint your IP so that your semiconductor customers can detect your IP when using our Chip DNA Analysis software in the Core Store.
Chip DNA Analysis utilizes fingerprints to detect the presence of IP in your chip design. This can ensure that your chip is not only using authorized IP, but also using the right version!
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