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Cadence buys DFM startup from U.C. Berkeley

Posted: 18 May 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IC layout? IC design? DFM startup?

Cadence Design Systems has confirmed its purchase of a design for manufacturability (DFM) startup founded by three graduate students from the University of California at Berkeley (U.C. Berkeley). CommandCAD is a provider of IC layout optimization technology that claims to boost yields and improve optical proximity correction (OPC).

The company issued a short statement and declined further comment. "We can confirm that Cadence has acquired CommandCAD," the statement read. "They have some interesting technology that is complementary to ongoing DFM solutions being developed at Cadence. We will not be providing any further details right now, but will update as and when there is more to report."

According to Kurt Keutzer, technical advisor to CommandCAD and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at U.C. Berkeley, the startup's origins go back to work done by founder and CTO Frank Gennari, while he was a graduate student. Gennari started working on the identification of layout patterns that cause yield problems.

Gennari then teamed up with Matt Moskewicz, then one of Keutzer's graduate students and now CommandCAD chief architect. "They felt they had made a pretty significant breakthrough in computational efficiency in their ability to identify pattern families," Keutzer said.

Gennari and Moskewicz worked with MBA student Ya-Chieh Lai, CommandCAD president and COO, to enter a business plan competition at U.C. Berkeley. They won an award, and attracted the attention of Martin Lefebvre, former CEO of Cadabra Design Automation, who was at U.C. Berkeley as part of an "Executive in Residence" program, Keutzer said. Lefebvre helped the budding company raise some seed capital, and joined CommandCAD as its CEO at its formation in late 2005.

CommandCAD founders had experience in industry as well as academia. Lai did design work at IBM, Texas Instruments, and MicroDisplay Corp., and was part of the marketing team at Samsung Semiconductor. Gennari was a CAD developer at IBM. And Moskewicz worked for IBM Research.

"CommandCAD solves a particular problem and solves it very well," Keutzer said. Its core technology, he said, can find "families" of patterns in IC physical layouts that can cause yield problems. That's a slow process with today's design rule checking tools, he said. A side benefit is the ability to decompose layouts into regular patterns. This could have applications in such areas as lithography simulation, Keutzer said.

The technology, embodied in a tool called Eclair, claims to consider the interactions between all the shapes within a given optical radius of influence. CommandCAD has targeted both fabs and design teams. In addition to eliminating patterns that may cause yield problems, Keutzer said, the company's technology can make OPC run faster and improve the quality of OPC.

"I think it's a great example and a model for a new type of EDA company that focuses on core technology and stays very small, and still manages to produce a product," Keutzer said.

- Richard Goering
EE Times

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