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EVE readies defense against Mentor’s infringement suits

Posted: 12 Jan 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:semiconductor patent infringement suits? emulator products? Virtex Readback?

The war between Mentor and EVE is now raging on two fronts: Oregon, United States, and Tokyo, Japan.

Mentor Graphics Corp. has hurled patent infringement accusations against EVE SA in the past six months. After receiving and analyzing the latest complaint from Mentor in Japan, EVE�s president and CEO Luc Burgun, in a recent conversation with EE Times, asked Mentor to review its legal position in Japan and to cease the new patent suit filed before the Tokyo District Court.

In July 2010, Mentor filed an import suspension application against EVE emulation products in Japan with the Japanese Customs office. The filing then requested that Japanese Customs issue a ruling that EVE emulation products infringe Mentor's intellectual property. The application also requested that, upon making such a determination, the Japanese Customs Office bar importation of EVE products into Japan.

One month later, Mentor filed a patent infringement suit against EVE in a federal court of Oregon based on patent US6,876,962, issued April 5, 2005. The company said it is seeking damages and to bar the manufacture and sale of EVE's products in the United States.

Then, in December, Mentor filed a patent infringement suit against EVE before the Tokyo District Court. The Oregon-based company indeed claimed that a majority of the appointed experts at the Japanese Customs office did not challenge the broad scope of their patent and further suggested that this case be examined at a civil trial.

In this complaint, Mentor continues to claim infringement of their JP 3588324 patent by EVE's ZeBu product, more specifically, when using the Virtex Readback? feature of the Xilinx FPGAs for debugging a design.

During the interview, Burgun highlighted two elements in this matter.

First, not only do EVE's technical experts think this Virtex Readback feature is far from what is described in the patent at issue�this was also the conclusion drawn by the Japanese Customs�the company also does not understand why Mentor keeps challenging a technology brought to market by Xilinx more than 10 years ago. "That's before the filing of the patent at issue. This doesn't make sense."

Second, Burgun said EVE is not the only company to use the Virtex Readback feature. It has been used in various products by other EDA companies such as ChipIt by ProDesign, now part of Synopsys. "Xilinx developed that functionality, and all that we do is simply use it in our products. If they want to sue someone, why don't they sue Xilinx directly?"

Asked why he thinks Mentor elected to target EVE, Burgun indicated that the company has become a serious competitor to Mentor. Also, he thinks that Mentor intends to isolate EVE, and more precisely to keep it away from initial public offerings and/or mergers and acquisitions.

Actually, this legal battle has a sense of d�j? vu. Mentor sued EVE in March 2006 for allegedly violating three Mentor patents. The companies settled before going to trial.

"At that time, we were a small company. We generated about $10 million revenue. After six months of legal procedure, and since we had managed to prove that the patents were not solid, Mentor was inclined to settle the matter. Lawyers' fees were such that we could not continue in that direction. We agreed to license the patents for a reasonable price, and that settled the matter."

Burgun said EVE is now playing the defense card. "Although the company is in good shape, profitable and with cash, we don't particularly want to experience what Quickturn and Mentor did in the 1990s."

He continued: "Several people in the EDA industry may remember very well that Mentor spent close to $60 million on legal battles against Quickturn from 1996 to 2002 (according to their filings with the Security Exchange Commission)�not to mention the cost of the hostile attempt to take over Quickturn in 1998�when at that time Quickturn accused Mentor of abusive litigation tactics."

Concerning Mentor's recent patent allegations, Burgun said EVE reckons that, in legal terms, it is safe. The strategy is to avoid war on multiple fronts and to wear themselves out dealing with legal issues while the company's preoccupation today is to enlarge the business and continue to meet its customers' needs, he added.

Asked if he was trying, through his message, to make Mentor see sense, he replied affirmatively. "There is a past experience. Mentor has already played that game, and it lost a lot of money and its reputation was affected.

Burgun also called for the EDA community as a whole to bring Mentor back to reason. "Such behavior is not good for our industry. It's unreasonable."

At this point, the company's intention is to be defensive on the legal front, outlined Burgun. However, he continued: "We are not here to worsen the matter. We simply intend to explain to the world that we have not done anything wrong and that Mentor should start thinking rationally again. They probably thought that we are not in great shape and that they can put pressure on us. But, this is wrong. We are doing very well in terms of growth and profitability. We simply have no intention to spend $10 million in lawyers' fees. We'd rather spend that money to come up with great products."

For the year 2010, EVE reported a 50 percent revenue growth compared to 2009 and realized 10 percent profitability. It also managed to sign contracts with 15 customers for ZeBu-Server, its sixth-generation scalable emulation system capable of handling up to one-billion ASIC gates.

In fiscal year 2010, EVE said it added many new customers in leading industries, including LG Electronics, Konica-Minolta, Fujitsu Microelectronics Solutions, Nokia-Siemens Networks, among others. EVE expanded its installed base through several repeat orders from previous ZeBu users.

EVE has a strong presence in the United States and Asia. Japan represents one fourth of its business with 5 of the 6 biggest semiconductor companies in Japan.

Anne-Fran�oise PELE
EE Times

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