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HKSTP offers launch pad for China IC design houses

Posted: 11 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:China IC firms? design houses? HKSTP services?

Cheung: The China government has shown a determination to nurture the country's budding IC design industry.

Few would dispute that China is a global manufacturing powerhouse. Still, it is well known that the Achilles' heel of this behemoth has always been in IC design, making it a major importer of semiconductors from offshore companies.

While China design houses have managed to snag a steady business in high-volume but low-end consumer electronics, they are yet to establish a presence in the cutting-edge, high-end technology segment.

But the scales are about to tip, according to S.W. Cheung, VP for business development and technology support division, Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP). For the past couple of years, the China government has shown a determination to nurture the country's budding IC design industry, Cheung told EE Times-Asia.

The government is grooming the local IC design community to capture the $29 billion chip market forecasted for China in 2011, and to provide chips for the country's homespun technology standards such as TD-SCDMA.

The government likewise took measures to lure back foreign-educated China engineers, especially those with experience in companies abroad, that they may spur the growth of IC design in their homeland. The goal, ultimately, is to wean China from dependence on imported technology and semiconductors.

One-stop shop
Right at the center of these efforts is HKSTP, which houses an IC Design Center (ICDC) that provides end-to-end support for design companies. When it opened in June 2003, ICDC had one clear purpose: to help drive IC design activities in Hong Kong and the mainland by providing shared development and design facilities.

The same year ICDC opened, HKSTP forged an agreement with China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), creating the "7+1" partnership that directs the seven national IC design and industry bases under MOST's Hi-Tech R&D Center to cooperate with HKSTP on IC design and development.

"HKSTP has been collaborating with the High-Tech R&D Center of the Ministry of Science and Technology since December 2003, under the '7+1' program that aims to support IC design and developmentand the semiconductor industry on the wholein Hong Kong and the mainland," explained Cheung. "The seven national IC design bases are in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Xian, Hangzhou and Wuxi; and 'plus one' refers to Hong Kong."

Five years later, ICDC has become a major launch pad for fledging design firms in China. From less than 10 firms, there are now at least 40 companies doing work at the center, including top-tier multinationals like IBM, NXP and Nvidia.

Adressing bottlenecks
Cheung believes that the major bottleneck faced by China design companies is in getting their designs to production, and then from production to commercialization. This is where the special services of HKSTP come in. The support it provides does not stop at product design, but covers the whole process up to commercialization.

"HKSTP provides a one-stop service for IC development, offering technical support that covers the entire process from design to production, and backed by a team of seasoned and professional engineers with a combined experience of more than 500 person-years," noted Cheung.

ICDC has also become a strategic gateway for EDA vendors eager to get a head start in a market that could become a formidable player in the global IC design industry. The center offers EDA-on-demand services based on an unlimited number of multi-user sublicenses from major EDA companies.

"The IC Design Centre is the only publicly funded center in the world that provides an unlimited number of multi-user sublicenses for a wide range of EDA tools from leading suppliers like Cadence, Synopsys and Mentor Graphics. Other key tool vendors include Magma, HED, Agilent and CoWare," said Cheung.

This sublicensing scheme, available only at HKSTP, was implemented to prevent illegal copying of software tools, according to Cheung. EDA vendors are hesitant to sell their products directly to companies in the mainland, as it is not uncommon there to have "a thousand users for a software sold to one only customer," Cheung noted. Litigation of intellectual property cases in China is likewise viewed to be generally slow and not forceful enough to discourage piracy.

HK legal system
This highlights another strategic edge for HKSTP: Hong Kong's legal system. Cheung said vendors are more confident that their intellectual property interests are protected if they distributed their tools through HKSTP, because it is under Hong Kong's mature arbitration system.

"HKSTP provides a sound legal framework for semiconductor IP development that protects the technological investment of IC design companies, thereby contributing to the development of the IC industry," Cheung concluded.

- EE Times-Asia




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