More litigation plagues the EDA industry

Add Cadence and Berkeley Design Automation (BDA) to the list of EDA litigants that will be making more lawyers wealthy in Silicon Valley.

First, Synopsys filed suit against Mentor Graphics in September last year, in an attempt to clear their path to an acquisition of Emulation and Verification Engineering (EVE), producer of the ZeBu ASIC emulator systems. Then, in February, Tela Innovations decided to take on the smartphone industry – as a proxy for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processor – in a set of patent infringement lawsuits and a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Compared to those two cases, the Cadence complaint appears to be pretty clear cut.  It’s ironic that the subject of this lawsuit, the Cadence’s Connections program, was originally created by Cadence to settle a complaint against them by the Federal Trade Commission. (For more on this, see my article on the Top-10 Developments in the History of EDA in the upcoming 2013 EDA Digest Resource Guide).

On April 3, Cadence filed a lawsuit against BDA, and 25 yet to be named BDA customers, for violating the terms of the Cadence Connections program. Cadence alleges that BDA circumvented their requirement for use of a Cadence Oasis license in all interfaces between 3rd party simulators and Virtuoso.

I am quite familiar with this requirement from my past experience as Product Marketing Manager for Nassda’s (and later Synopsys’) HSIM simulator.  Before Cadence imposed this requirement, 3rd party developers had multiple alternatives for interfacing their simulator to the Cadence environment, depending on the level of integration required. Since Virtuoso is far and away the EDA industry leader for schematic-driven transistor-level IC design, no SPICE-based simulator vendor has a chance at survival without such an interface.  Without it, there is no cross-probing from schematic to waveform display, and no direct netlisting from schematics for simulation.

While keeping within the letter of the FTC settlement that established the Connections program, by imposing the Oasis requirement Cadence gets a piece of the action, and can better track 3rd party usage. Customers must pay the additional price for every non-Cadence simulator that they use. According to the Cadence complaint, BDA found a way to save customers this additional expense.

In fact, the Q4 2010 BDA Installation Guide at page 15 states: “The OASIS Integration is deprecated. BDA strongly discourages users from choosing this Method.” (source: Cadence Design Systems vs Berkeley Design Automation, Case3:13-cv-01539-JCS)

If true, this spells big trouble for BDA as they search for a liquidation event. BDA has employed Oasis experts that they hired away from Cadence, so they had sufficient knowledge about how the interface works.  From its start, BDA has been an unwelcome competitor to Cadence’s Spectre-RF tool, and then to Cadence’s Ultrasim. Other EDA vendors have had difficulty competing in the the speed-accuracy window that BDA targeted, between pure SPICE simulators and more efficient but less accurate Fast-SPICE engines.  If a jury agrees, Cadence could choose to shut BDA out of their environment. Just as damaging would be  a temporary cease-and-desist order while the case drags its way through court.