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Imec’s Evolution in the Open Innovation Concept

Several years back (2011), I interviewed imec’s CEO Luc Van den hove about a new concept known as open innovation (see, “Avoid IP Patent Battles with Open Innovation?”) How much has changed in the concept since that time? To find out, I touched base with Ludo Deferm, Executive Vice President at imec. What follows is an edited version of that discussion. — JB

Blyler: Has the definition of open innovation changed since my last interview with imec?

Deferm: Yes, it has changed. In imec’s model of open innovation, we create an ecosystem of companies that cover the complete value chain. All companies that join the program have access to the IP that they need to do their business and each partner pays for the IP needed. This means that foundries have access to other IP than fabless companies or suppliers. We have seen that this model is very successful for the development of generic technologies—such as generic semiconductor technologies— where companies within the same level of the ecosystem can collaborate on precompetitive matters. Our open innovation programs in this domain include many companies at each level.

The more you move towards the development of applications and the higher the Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs), the less players you will have per level in the value chain. In this kind of program, open innovation still means creating an ecosystem that covers the complete value chain, but the number of companies within the same business (at the same level of the value chain) will decrease, all while ensuring a higher IP protection for each company. We have experienced that this is an innovation model that is more attractive for companies in the health sector, due to the fact that for instance pharma companies do not want to work together with all their competitors, but only with those they have an arrangement with.

Blyler: How does open innovation relate to open source?

Deferm: Open source is different from open innovation. For open source in software, you develop software code and make it available to the community. Your return model is not the software, but can be services or additional activities linked to that software. These additional activities can be done in an open innovation model, but that is not a must.

Blyler: Has the time come for open source hardware in the semiconductor nanochip industry?

Deferm: With the rise of the internet of things (IoT), the world is evolving towards markets, where data plays an ever increasing role. Companies or governments who need the data for their activities or business, don’t want to depend on one specific hardware/software platform anymore—they want to be able to choose between platforms or even combine platforms to invite service providers to embed their services on these platforms. Such platforms should be accessible to multiple industries, open to be used by all members. However, the hardware inside these platforms will not belong to the users or the companies making use of it.  To be successful in the IoT market, hardware suppliers will have to make their platforms accessible for different service and data suppliers, even if these hardware suppliers are also service suppliers.

Blyler: What is the value proposition for chip makers using open source hardware? Who makes money and how?

Deferm: If the hardware is provided to service companies or for gathering data, those who benefit from the services and data have to pay to the providers, who on their turn have to reimburse the hardware suppliers and chip makers.  We will evolve towards a horizontal system, where different companies use data platforms to provide different services or solutions. Of course, this will not be free of charge.

Blyler: Thank you.

Originally published on JB System’s, “Semi-IP Systems.” Used with permission

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