[EAS] Every Chip a Suit

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Feb 9 04:01:51 EST 2005

Subject:   Every Chip a Suit

Dear Colleagues -

Enough gloom already, you will say. I'll try to be more optimistic
soon. For now I want to point to an intersection of legal and
engineering themes that I see as looming a lot larger than most in
EE seem to realize. Here are some items of note:

 - The future of the semiconductor industry, in terms of
semiconductor product consumption, lies with consumer and
entertainment electronics. Nothing else can begin to approach the
consumption volume. You'll have seen this in the business press. The
typical luxury car already has more than 30 microcontrollers.

 - "Every successful integrated circuit has at least one patent
infringement suit pending." This told to me by a senior partner
in one of New York's biggest intellectual property law firms. The
density of such suits is increasing. Entrepreneurial enterprises
now need to have a serious legal war chest.
Lawrence Lessig of the Stanford Law School has championed the cause
of greater openness in his 2001 book, "The Future of Ideas." I
mentioned it on this list just after its publication

 - Law suits are driving technology products off the market. The
hard drive video recorder by Replay TV that skipped over commercials
was sued out of existence by the major motion picture studios. Ditto
the recorder's manufacturer. And if you want to record HDTV to a DVD
after July 1, 2005, you had better act now. 
You can read about this, about other "extinct gizmos" and, most
importantly, those presently in danger of extinction, at
<http://www.eff.org/endangered/>, a project of the Electronic
Frontiers Foundation (brought to my attention by Prof. J. Rimas

This, and the items below, imply that legal constraints on
technology and innovation are becoming its major shaping influence,
more so than economics. Just as engineers are now working for big
design firms like IDEO
<http://jove.eng.yale.edu/pipermail/eas-info/2004/000692.html> as a
context with good leverage to bring products to market, so they may
next be working for law firms, as the context with the ultimate
clout. In fact I have it first-hand from a West Coast IP lawyer that
good engineers can already earn six-figure incomes in the firm where
he works.

It is worth pondering what this means for the future of EE, the
attractiveness of the field, and the implications for education.
Students sniff these things out, though without probing them
particularly, a lot sooner than their teachers. Pollyanna approaches
will not work for long.  --PJK

(from NewsScan Daily, 27 January 2005)

Experts are predicting a major shakeout in the consumer electronics 
industry, similar to the one computer makers endured two decades
ago.  Hordes of upstart rivals, plummeting prices and a host of new
technologies  are pummeling profits at industry stalwarts such as
Sony, Pioneer and  Philips Electronics. "We're seeing price
depreciation that would have been unimaginable in the past," says
Sony chief strategy officer Katsumi Ihara.  "What's behind it is
that with the switch to digital components, anyone can  make them
and there aren't compelling ways to distinguish one's products."  In
an effort to cope with the onslaught of mass look-alikes, the big 
electronic makers have scrambled to control the few key components
that  still yield reasonable profit margins, such as flat-panel
displays. That, in turn, has led to a debilitating supply glut,
with LCD prices falling 40%  since last summer. The result has been
a refocusing on the part of Philips  and Thomson SA of France, which
are now placing more emphasis on medical  equipment and broadcasting
gear, respectively. Meanwhile, Sony and Samsung  are finding new
life in cooperative ventures, teaming up to build the  world's
largest LCD panel factory. Hitachi, Toshiba and Matsushita are 
following suit, with an LCD plant that will open next year. The
bottom line  will be good for consumers, however, as electronics
manufacturers struggle  to churn out innovative products at
ever-lower prices. (Wall Street Journal  27 Jan 2005)
 (sub req'd)

(from Edupage, January 28, 2005)

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has filed a second
round of lawsuits against an undisclosed number of U.S. users
suspected of illegally trading copyrighted movie files. The group
first filed lawsuits against individuals in November, followed by
legal action against Web sites that function as file-trading hubs,
including BitTorrent, eDonkey, and DirectConnect networks. MPAA
Chief Executive Officer Dan Glickman said, "We cannot allow people
to steal our motion pictures and other products online, and we will
use all the options we have available to encourage people to obey
the law." The MPAA also released a software tool called Parent File
Scan that identifies file-sharing software on a computer, as well as
movie and music files that might be protected by copyright. The
software does not differentiate between legal and illegal files, and
it does not monitor or block any downloads. Rather, it identifies
files of a wide range of formats and leaves decisions about which
are legitimate up to users, most of whom presumably will be parents.
CNET, 26 January 2005

(from NewsScan Daily, 21 January 2005)

Consumers' penchant for constant upgrades -- new cell phones, a 
sleeker laptop -- is causing havoc in the environment, and with
technology  products now accounting for as much as 40% of the lead
in U.S. landfills,  e-waste has become one of the fastest-growing
sectors of the U.S. solid  waste stream. The International
Association of Electronics Recyclers  estimates that Americans
dispose of 2 million tons of electronic products a  year --
including 50 million computers and 130 million cell phones -- and 
China, which has served for years as the final resting place for
Americans'  unwanted TVs and computers, is becoming overwhelmed by
the volume. Some  high-tech companies are taking matters into their
own hands -- Hewlett  Packard and Dell job out their e-waste
handling to environmentally  sensitive recyclers such as RetroBox --
but such efforts are still quite  limited and unable to cope with a
problem that's reaching crisis  proportions. Meanwhile, the U.S. is
the only developed country not to have  ratified the 1992 Basel
Convention, the international treaty that controls  the export of
hazardous waste. "There's a real electronics-waste crisis,"  says
Basel Action Network coordinator Jim Puckett. "The U.S. just looks
the  other way as we use these cheap and dirty dumping grounds."
(Washington  Post 21 Jan 2005)

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