IP Core Store builds a better mousetrap

A fledgling company called IPextreme has come out with a new business model for distributing semiconductor intellectual property to the fabless semiconductor folks. It's best characterized as Amazon.com for semiconductor IP. The new company helps developers at the low-footprint end of the embedded-system industry create their own highly integrated system-on-chip ICs.

By Control Engineering Staff January 24, 2008

Campbell, CA —A fledgling company called IPextreme has come out with a new business model for distributing semiconductor intellectual property (IP) to the fabless semiconductor folks. It’s best characterized as Amazon.com for semiconductor IP. The new company helps developers at the low-footprint end of the embedded-system industry create their own highly integrated system-on-chip (SOC) ICs.
Larger semiconductor companies, such as Freescale Semiconductor generate and test many IP blocks (which are actually VHDL descriptions that the downstream fab uses to create the masks, etc., needed to fabricate chips) for use in their standard products. IP blocks implement various functions, such as bus controllers, analog-to-digital convertors, memory sections–and microprocessor cores.
These blocks typically have usefulness outside of the standard devices the company plans to put into production, so they make them available to fabless semiconductor companies for non-standard products. Companies developing chips in this way are called fabless semiconductor developers because they do design work, but contract out the actual IC fabrication to third parties.
Fabless semiconductor companies mix and match the IP blocks to design SOC ICs especially for non-standard applications. They then contract excess capacity at semiconductor fabrication facilities to make and package the actual chips. One of the biggest problems with the current purchase-chain model is that purchasing IP blocks involves a lot of negotiation on price and contract details, which incurs large legal fees, but provides very limited value. Another problem is that, after purchasing the IP blocks the fabless semiconductor company still has the problem of making all of the IP blocks work together.
IPextreme’s Core Store is a way to distribute these IP blocks more efficiently and at lower cost to the fabless semiconductor companies. They have (so far) contracted with three IP developers ( National Semiconductor , Freescale Semiconductor, and Infineon Technologies ) to “catalog” selected IP blocks. Embedded system developers can go to the company’s Website, browse the catalog, pick out the IP blocks they need, and purchase them online. According to sources at IPextreme and Freescale, the business model’s efficiency makes it possible to lower the price point by as much as 10X. In addition, as part of their service IPextreme modifies the IP blocks to include additional hooks needed to connect IP blocks from different developers together into a working circuit.
Also, read the Daily News story about IPextreme.

C.G. Masi , senior editor