From an engineering point of view, IP is all about functionality, PPA, fitness for use and track record. From a business/management point of view there are other factors, just as critical, that relate less to what the IP is and more to its correct management and business obligations. The problems have different flavors depending on whether you are primarily a supplier of IP, primarily a consumer or if you are working in a collaborative development. To avoid turning this into a thesis, I’ll talk here just about issues relating to the design and royalty impact of the consumption of soft and hard IP, particularly when externally sourced.
A large modern design can contain hundreds of such IPs – CPUs, memories of various types, standard interfaces, bus fabrics, accelerators, security blocks, the list is endless. Each comes with one or more license agreements restricting allowed access and usage. These can become quite elaborate as supplier and consumer arm-wrestle to optimize their individual interests. Licenses can be time-bounded, geography-bounded, design and access bounded and there may be additional restrictions around ITAR. Moreover new agreements are struck all the time with new bounds which overlap or partially overlap with previous agreements. The result for any one IP can be a patchwork of permissions and restrictions on who can access, when they can access, what they can access and for what purpose.
Multiply this by potentially hundreds of sourced IP on a design, across multiple designs active in a company, across multiple locations and you have a management nightmare. This is not stuff a design team wants to worry about but you can see how easy it would be, despite best intentions, to violate agreements.
There’s another problem – IP is not static. At any given time, there can be multiple versions of an IP in play, addressing fixes or perhaps offering special-purpose variants. New versions of IP appear as a design is evolving which leads to questions of which versions you should be using when you’re signing off the design. These questions don’t always have easy answers. A latest fix may be “more ideal” by some measures but may create other problems for system or cross-family compatibility. There may be a sanctioned “best” version at any given time, but how do you check if your design meets that expectation prior to signoff?
What about all the internally-sourced IP? For most companies these provide a lot of their product differentiation. Thanks to years of M&A/consolidation they have rich sources of diverse IP, but built to equally diverse standards and expectations which may be significant when used in different parts of the company. Version management and suitability for use in your application are as much a concern as for externally sourced IP. And you shouldn’t think that internal IP is necessarily free of rights restrictions because it is internal; there may still be restrictions inherited through assignments from prior inventors.
Finally, once you are shipping, do you have accurate information to track royalty obligations? Again this is not always easy to figure out across complex and differing license agreements unless you have a reliable system in place to support assessing payments and, if necessary, to support litigation.
Navigating these thickets of restrictions and requirements is an IS problem requiring a professional solution. Getting this stuff wrong can end in lawsuits, possibly torpedoing a design or a business so this is no place for amateur efforts. Deployed on the collaborative 3DEXPERIENCE Platform, the Silicon Thinking Semiconductor IP Management solution delivers an enterprise level capability companies need to manage and effectively use their IP portfolios. The solution provides easy and secure global cataloging, vetting, and search capabilities across business units and partner and supplier networks. It also delivers essential IP governance tools, and enables full synchronization of IP management with issue, defect and change processes. It also provides royalty tracking and management capabilities to maximize profits while minimizing litigation risks.
You can get another perspective on these management aspects of IP traffic control HERE.