Paradoxically, the merger of equipment manufacturers AMAT and TEL may shrink the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tool market while improving IP security.
In the last several days, much has been written about the proposed merger of Applied Materials (AMAT) and Tokyo Electron (TEL). Desired by both, this merger would create a company worth $29B that would be the largest semiconductor equipment company in the world by sales. In comparison, the EDA tool market is roughly valued at $1.1B.
This merger of capital equipment giants represents an ongoing consolidation of the semiconductor supply chain, from chip/component developers through the IDM/foundries and manufacturing space. One reason for this consolidation is the increasingly high costs of making chips smaller and smaller – e.g., at the leading edge process nodes.
At first glance, it would appear that the merger will have little impact on the world of semiconductor intellectual property (IP). Still, one of the stated goals of the merged companies is to extract costs, “from all layers of the supply chain,” according to a recent report from Canaccord Genuity’s analyst Josh Baribeau (see, “Size Matters: Our First Take on AMAT’s Proposed Merger with Tel.”)
While admittedly far down on the supply chain relative to capital equipment, the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tool market – heavy dependent on design and verification IP – might feel the effects of this merger in several ways.
First, equipment manufactures use EDA tools and related processes to qualify new manufacturing systems. For example, last year Applied Materials supplied critical film properties (new materials) and device characterization data from its advanced process systems to Synopsys. This allowed the EDA vendor to create more accurate chip design and verification models.
Such new materials and processes are necessary to keep Moore’s Law on track, in contrast to the ever increasing lithographic costs at lower and lower nodes. Several new technologies and process node shrinks are also driving up the cost of manufacturing leading edge chips – such things as 3D NAND devices, 450mm wafers, finFET structures, stacked dies and more.
Still, the cost of EDA tools are low in relationship to other costs. According to long-time EDA analyst Gary Smith, the cost of EDA tools is analogous to lunch money. The real costs in SoC development are related to the cost of engineers to do the design. Greater level of chip design-verification tool automation will reduce these costs, as will, “the reuse of software, the reuse of verifiable design IP, and by reducing SoC core blocks below the typical five blocks.” (see, “Gary Smith’s Sunday Night, Pre-DAC Forecast”)
It may well be that consolidation by the equipment manufactures will result in accelerated consolidation of the lower part of the semiconductor supply chain, e.g., EDA tool vendors. Judging from the furry of acquisitions in the EDA community over the last several years, this scenario is hardly surprising.
On the other hand, this merger of equipment giants might be a good thing for the development of soft IP standards. As Warren Savage pointed out a few months ago (see, “Long Standards, Twinkie IP, Macro Trends, and Patent Trolls“), the semiconductor equipment companies need to approve any IP design standards since it will be their systems that must read the soft IP.
Consolidation of the equipment market should mean fewer companies that need to approve any such standards, thus (in theory) hastening the approval process.
Will the end result of the AMAT and TEL merger mean further consolidation of EDA tools and hence the IP markets? Will the merger lead to greater IP protection at the lower process nodes? The answer will probably be revealed in the next installment of Moore’s Law, i.e., the next process node advancement.