IP should stand for Intellectual Partnership

-April 25, 2013

Yesterday, I had lunch with someone who has been deeply involved in the IP industry since before it was ever established as an independent business. That was when companies were doing internal reuse and he was working on pieces where it was known that the design would be used in many chip variants over an extended period of time. He has asked to remain anonymous because he wanted to be able to talk off the record and his comments do not necessarily reflect those of his current employer.

He talked about how central the IP business model is to the system design industry these days and how it has recreated the entrepreneurial spirit for many designers. It is now possible for them to create something of value either on their own or with a small team of people. He admits that you have to have a stable company behind you because fly-by-night is not a successful way to do business where there is a large element of trust and partnership in an IP related deal. He spoke about some of the difficulties that companies have in pricing IP and more specifically deciding which upgrades or modification to do for individual clients. Making a variant of a design can benefit all of the current and future adopters of the IP, but at the same time can also bring in more instability in the product. More variants mean more to verify, more things to keep track of and potential problems for people who may not want that variant. Many of these variants are added as configuration options for the IP meaning that there is no penalty for upgrading your IP block, but it may still cause problems.

He stated that the biggest issue he sees in the industry today is one of communications. As previously stated, a company does not sell a block of IP and throw it over a wall. A sale means the start of a partnership – one in which the IP company takes on the role of the domain expert for part of the chip. They have a head start in that RTL may already exist, but the set of configuration options chosen in each design may be different from those ever selected before. This may lead to issues with the IP. He said that it is difficult to provide documentation that explains everything clearly enough to help the end user avoid problems. This can lead to unexpected interaction and as we can expect, anything unverified is likely to fail. But the real part of the partnership is the service being provided, in that the IP company is willing to stand behind the product, work with the client to ensure their success and to provide bug fixes in a similar manner that the company would be able to do themselves. This was an important part of the conversation. They are engineers just like everyone else and when bugs are found, it takes time to locate the cause and to produce the correct fix. Rush jobs create sloppy patches that eventually leads to unstable products.

So, the term Intellectual Property is perhaps wrong. They are not buying Property, they are buying into a partnership that brings Intellect along with it – knowledge and experience in a domain that may not be owned by the company using the IP.

Brian Bailey – keeping you covered

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