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Essay: The future of "group innovation" of semiconductor enterprises

release time:2022-03-28Author source:Dr. Feng JinfengBrowse:2457

I am more concerned about litigation in the IC industry. No, it's mainly because such lawsuits are basically disputes about technology and patent infringement. We can see the changes of technology and the changes one after another from the lawsuits, and we can gain insight into the real signs of some industries.

People in the industry often say that: "If they have not been sued by international giants, chip companies are embarrassed to say that they have really mastered the core technologies or core patents."People in the industry often say that: "If they have not been sued by international giants, chip companies are embarrassed to say that they have really mastered the core technologies or core patents."

The question is, is the core patent useful?

一、Core patents are valuable

2009,Pan-Lin Company claims that China Micro Company has infringed on plasma etching machine. Zhongwei Company made full use of its core patent base and won four consecutive rounds of intellectual property litigation against Fanlin Company in Taiwan Province High Court.

2014,Goer Acoustics reached a global settlement with Lou's Company, the leading global MEMS microphone company, on the related patent litigation. This is closely related to Goer's long-term patent layout. Goer currently has more than 3,000 MEMS-related patents.

2016,After two and a half years' repeated verification, Applied Materials Company of the United States finally proved that Zhongwei products were completely based on its own core patents and had not used the product design materials and data of Zhongwei.

2017On November 2nd, the US court agreed to a preliminary injunction request from Vieco Company, forbidding SGL Company to provide graphite discs for MOCVD production equipment of China Micro Company. On November 24th, the State Intellectual Property Office of China examined and decided, rejected the application of Weiyike Company for the invalidation of the patent of Zhongwei Company, and confirmed that the patent involved in the patent infringement of Weiyike Company sued by Zhongwei Company was a valid patent. Several years after China Micro developed related technologies and laid out a series of related patent applications, Vieco USA Company submitted similar patent applications in the United States and used them in products, thus infringing China Micro's patent rights. In the end, Zhongwei and Weiyike reached the result of sharing patents.

These cases are all accumulated by Chinese enterprises through core patents, and they can stand on their feet and move forward in the face of pressure from international peers. If you are passively reconciled, the price is often painful. According to public media reports, in November 2009, TSMC v SMIC intellectual property case signed a settlement agreement, and TSMC was awarded USD 200 million in cash and 10% equity of SMIC. Therefore, if semiconductor enterprises can have core patents, they will have an extremely advantageous position in the international competition.

二、The core patent value is limited, especially in domestic competition.

I have seen several domestic intellectual property litigation cases, and in the cases where the judgment is established, the defendant often bears hundreds of thousands, at most millions of compensation. Correspondingly, the income involved in infringing patents is often hundreds of millions; If the IPO is successful, it will be an enterprise with a market value of 10 billion yuan. Therefore, the cost of intellectual property disputes for high-tech enterprises, including semiconductor enterprises, seems very small, sometimes negligible.

More interestingly, in recent years, the state has strongly supported the listing and financing of semiconductor enterprises, so enterprises with a small income scale are eligible to declare IPO. The plaintiff often finds that he has been infringed in the defendant's IPO application materials, but the defendant often argues that those who sue me for intellectual property infringement are deliberately blocking my listing, and are malicious lawsuits by peers. As a result, many enterprises went public smoothly with intellectual property litigation. In practice, the value of the core patents accumulated by the plaintiff is relatively limited in the domestic market competition.

三、When Silicon Valley was "original innovation", we were "group innovation"

Why is the value of core patents greatly weakened in China?

Because the core patent is a "double-edged sword" in China, it certainly means market opportunities for inventors, but from the perspective of other practitioners, market opportunities have also been found through the core patents of peers. Once someone discovers a new profitable market, there will be hundreds of competitors everywhere, each offering a copy of the original idea, with a slight change to make it "unique", more practical or cheaper. The practice of hundreds of companies in the same field, which I call "group innovation", is in a sense a lack of awe and respect for originality.

Why is this so? As mentioned above, "the cost of intellectual property disputes for high-tech enterprises, including semiconductor enterprises, seems to be very small, sometimes so small as to be negligible".Why is this so? As mentioned above, "the cost of intellectual property disputes for high-tech enterprises, including semiconductor enterprises, seems to be very small, sometimes so small as to be negligible".

What will this "group innovation" bring? It essentially breaks the traditional idea that innovation depends on the protection of intellectual property rights. On the contrary, to a large extent, it is the default for the industry to "learn" or even "borrow" intellectual property rights. For every "borrower", it is precisely because he knows that his creativity will be imitated by dozens or even hundreds of competitors in a few days, so you need to constantly improve your creativity. This can explain why nearly 100 bike-sharing start-ups can emerge in China within a year. This can also explain how JD.COM and Pinduoduo were born when China had Taobao Tmall.This kind of "group innovation" also has benign results, such as Tik Tok growing out of the jungle, the perfection of creativity, and going abroad.TikTokIt's invincible

"Group innovation" will also lead to a negative result, that is, it is difficult to have evergreen trees < /strong >. China's EDA market with billions of dollars, with more than 30 start-up enterprises; There are hundreds of Chinese start-up enterprises in the billion-dollar global silicon carbide market. In America, which advocates "original innovation", there are no competitors from Amazon, Google, Apple, Nvidia, Microsoft and Qualcomm, because there are no imitators.

MOCVD is a good example of the past tense.In 2010-2011, due to the heat of LED industry, there was a rush of MOCVD equipment research and development projects in China. At that time, I worked in the department in charge of strategic emerging industries in Shanghai, wrote a special report to the leaders of Shanghai, and statistically analyzed all MOCVD projects in China. There were 15 slightly famous undertaking units, including 4 in Shanghai. At that time, it was found that the product routes developed by most units were "referring" to the product architecture of VIIKO in the United States or Aisiqiang in Germany. The core links not only did not bypass the patent protection of the other party, but even some of them were simply disassembled and reassembled. Fortunately, later, China's MOCVD equipment market was dominated by Zhongwei, which was developed two years later than these enterprises. Zhongwei entered the market as LED equipment from semiconductor etching machines, which meant a little trial, and used a brand-new machine structure. Of course, there was no fear of technical litigation from American counterparts. I'm afraid that if other countries "refer" to it successfully and sell it on a large scale, it will be extremely difficult to face the litigation of international peers.

四、Redefinition of "Group Innovation"

Silicon Valley model is:

 Inventions must be strictly protected, and infringement must be severely punished. Everyone is motivated to invent, because all the extended benefits after the invention are their own!

Group innovation mode is:

New things will be imitated, imitation will lead to competition, and competition will promote group innovation (generally, it is performance improvement, appearance improvement or mode adjustment with quick results, rather than basic innovation that requires years or even more than ten years of investment).

Group innovation, at best, is an art to achieve perfection.。We all know that Japan is good at doing things to the extreme; We often feel inferior. We lack the spirit of artisans, and we often can't do things to the extreme. But when we return to the topic of semiconductors, we need to be soberly aware that Silicon Valley was not born in Japan.

五、"Group innovation" certainly does not represent the future.

The semiconductor industry has two characteristics, and it is destined that we still need to spend a long period of "group innovation".

One feature: the semiconductor industry is very mature.

Calculated from 1945, this is an industry that has existed for nearly 80 years. Most of the original works have been innovated all over the world. It is very difficult to make "original innovation" and "basic innovation".

Feature 2: We are chasers.

Even the diodes, resistors and capacitors in 1960s and analog circuits in 1980s, China is still highly dependent on imports in the middle and high-end fields. Everyone can see it clearly,The outer layer of the "substitute import" Big Mac cake (the imitation, absorption and digestion of low-end technology products) can't be eaten, and there is no energy or ability to think about how to eat the sweetest and most nutritious inner layer of the cake for the time being.

Calm down and face the reality.

Today, most of the integrated circuit designs, such as GPU, EDA, CPU, analog circuits, power devices, etc., as well as equipment and materials, are group-based innovations, which completely lack the core competitive advantage of competing with top international peers from the perspective of global competitiveness. Only when we realize this, can we face the semiconductor world around us correctly. Usually, these enterprises shout out "crush Nvidia", "kill Xilinx" and "surpass ADI", all of which are in their own homes. Today, public opinion is very contemptuous of Lenovo computer, thinking that it is just a machine, and the core components inside are mainly imported. We can also introspect whether our vigorous semiconductor industry today is another form of Lenovo computer; Then think further about how the semiconductor industry can get rid of this form, from architecture design, to the introduction of new materials, to the breakthrough of scientific principles. These are the foundation of the industry for a long time.

Of course, due to the existence of domestic substitution, there is still a large market space for group innovation, and there are still 5-10 years of market opportunities. For example, the demand for low-end substitution in almost all directions of chip design, equipment and materials is also very strong; In terms of chip manufacturing, the mainland's independent production capacity accounts for less than 4% of the world's total, far from meeting the needs of local chip design enterprises, which account for 15% of the world's total. butIf there is no technical core competitiveness and original ability, it is really difficult for an enterprise to last, and it is unclear.10Are the head enterprises in various sub-sectors still in existence today?

Dilemma.

On the one hand, if it takes too much money and time to do long-term things, even if it breaks through, it is easy to make wedding dresses for domestic counterparts; On the other hand, we can't lie on the hotbed of domestic substitution, rippling in the warm water of absorption, digestion and promotion. Sooner or later, we have to go abroad to compete with the top international peers. If we don't do basic innovation, there will be no way out in the long run.

From the national policy level, it is suggested that while continuing to strongly support the domestic substitution of integrated circuits, on the one hand, more resources should be invested in more sophisticated, basic and primitive innovations in the semiconductor field; On the other hand, it is necessary to implement stricter intellectual property protection policies, avoid "involution" from the core technology level, and make long-term technology investors feel relieved and at ease.

Author introduction


Dr. Feng Jinfeng, deputy secretary general of Shanghai IC Industry Association, visiting professor of Fudan University, doctor of engineering from Shanghai Jiaotong University, double bachelor of engineering and master of management from Tsinghua University, is the author of One Sand, One World and Core Road. Email: jinf@139.com



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