Monday, March 12, 2018

Alfidi Capital at REUSE 2017 Semiconductor IP

I could not close out my 2017 adventures without attending the REUSE 2017 Semiconductor IP conference in Santa Clara. I am a regular down at this convention center and nothing big in tech escapes my notice. I also rarely escape the tech sector's notice, which is why techies invite me to events. Gaze upon my badge selfie below so we can get to work.

Alfidi Capital at REUSE 2017.

The first keynote on IP theft should have opened the eyes of anyone in Silicon Valley who still thinks that authoritarian countries can still be friends of the United States. Just look at the People's Republic of China, for crying out loud, and see how their Communist government causes us problems. The US Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property (aka the IP Commission) reported that China has stolen up to $600B worth of IP from the US economy, including information critical to our defense industrial base. I started to see the potential for this kind of disaster years ago when I first started following the rare earth element sector. China's stated strategic desire to attract high value manufacturing to its territory is a long-term threat to democracy.

Our REUSE keynote speaker had solid recommendations for defenses against foreign IP theft, with the caveat that litigation after the fact is far more expensive than erecting cyberdefenses (like encryption) before it happens. I would add that any US company considering a high-tech joint venture with a Chinese company needs to abandon such a project immediately, before the inevitable ripoff happens.

Automobile IP will be a hot topic as automakers deploy autonomous vehicles. Get to know the Single Edge Nibble Transmission (SENT) protocol for sensors. The CAN in Automation folks hold their plugfests to see what kind of automotive tech will work as we move into self-driving cars. The proliferation of sensor tech in IoT and cars means there will be more pure-play IT possibilities for startup business models.

The Arm folks made their presence known once again. Their Arm Compute Library for developers now includes ML and AI enablement. The next step in architecture evolution is integrated encryption capability. Expect to see ambient energy harvesting for IoT devices via radio frequency (RF) or solar attachments. Arm's DesignStart program offers no-cost licensing up front for development based on Arm's core systems. I look forward to watching startups build hardware-infused encryption and energy processors onto Arm platforms. The bottom line for developers is that partner IP built on platform IP like Arm enables faster hardware product time-to-market.

I will offer a warning to US developers based on what we already know about Chinese IP theft. Many partners in some foundry support ecosystems have Chinese-sounding names, so they deserve a thorough review for any US partner concerned about IP protection or economic dependence. In case of a trade war, US companies would be cut off from Chinese supply chains, and I doubt they will have access to the WTO or other avenues for recourse in the event of IP theft.

I learned a few things from a keynote on how IP ecosystems evolve. Springer's "Security Assurance Guidance for Third-Party IP" is a start for developers who must verify their vendors' trustworthiness. Vendors must use a formalized ticketing system to track IP knowledge sharing. I get that there will be new opportunities for developers in subsystems, chiplets, and services. I also foresee new threats as inexperienced tech developers launch those startups without IP tracking or vendor vetting on day one.

I never pass up a chance to hear about anything from open sources, so of course I went to the panel on open innovation. I was very impressed with one business model empowering fabless product generation, and it may be very useful for one concept I have in development. Any FPGA circuit, programmed input/output (PIO) device, or electronic design automation (EDA) tool can now be developed from open sources. Microsoft's Project Catapult created a white paper "A Cloud-Scale Acceleration Architecture" that provides a decent road map for FPGA development. Google search results for "open source prototyping" show that open sourcing is harder and costlier for hardware than for software.

The closing keynote on semiconductor industry trends gave me some new food for thought on AI impacts. If you have not heard of those things yet, they are coming to a startup pitchfest near you after the wheels fall off this crypto ICO craze. Cheap open source development will become more prevalent now that only the largest semiconductor companies can afford to survive the long lead times between major nodes in tech shifts. Smaller design rules are part of the push against Moore's Law, and they increase the cost of conventional semicon development. Extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) is the next step in small measurement process development. The sector's drive for Design-Technology Co-Optimization (DTCO) pushes the simultaneous development of every step in the semicon value chain, including the foundry.

REUSE is an informal showcase for smaller companies. I got my trade show passport stamped at every expo vendor booth because I'm just that thorough. I will now offer some wrap-up wisdom for any techies considering a hardware startup. Secure your foundation IP, encrypt your data, investigate your vendors, and track your workflows if they connect outside your enterprise. Deny any potential Chinese partners access to any and all American tech, including napkin sketches, and erect impenetrable digital barriers to Chinese cyber intrusions. I would be happy to share these observations and more if REUSE offers me a speaking slot net year.