There is an accelerating trend in the electronics industry toward implementing an entire electronic system on a single chip through the integration of multiple, reusable, virtual components including both digital and analog circuitry. These systems perform specific functions (i.e. digital signal processor graphics controllers) and are sometimes interchangeably referred to as intellectual property (“ip cores embedded” or “ip building blocks”). This trend toward such semiconductor systems has important licensing implications.

 

Because of widely adopted industry standards, standardized physical components can be rapidly and easily mixed on a printed circuit board (“PCB”) to create an electronic system of multiple discrete integrated circuits. Each discrete device or component in the system can be purchased from separate vendors which own or have rights to the intellectual property in the device. The best technology, both digital and analog, can usually be implemented because discrete components can be easily purchased from different vendors.

 

Current deep-submicron semiconductor technology makes dense integrated circuits feasible enabling the design and production of application-specific integrated circuits (“ASICs”) that combine components not on a circuit board, but within a single chip. Systems-on-a-chip are built of standard virtual components, combined with custom logic. Standardization occurs at the sub-chip level and customization at the device level. The combination of virtual components enables high quality electronic systems to be built faster and at a lower cost than products containing discrete physical components. Standardization is still developing and the goal of the growing Virtual Socket Interface Alliance is to establish technical standards to enable the mix and match of virtual components.

 

Fred M. Greguras*