picoChip: It’s A Little Early for the High-Fives

In the Hutong
Experiencing dizzy spells
1107 hrs.

Interesting little article in EETimes late last week. It seems British semiconductor startup picoChip opened a networking and communications R&D lab at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications (BUPT) last week.

All very interesting, as picoChip is basically outsourcing its R&D on 4G wireless technology. With too few hands and too much ground to cover in the world of wireless, picoChip apparently figures it’s better to have to outsource than not to be in the game at all. This points to an important trend: global R&D in China is no longer the sole province of Fortune 1000 technology beheamouths. A broad range of companies, often driven by expatriate Chinese executives, is coming to China to tap the country’s technical labor resource.

What concerns me about the tone of the article is that a mere 7 days after setting up shop, EETimes makes it sound like picoChip has licked all of the major challenges one faces when coming into China and that the place is already showing great results.

On IP protection: “There’s some risk – IP protection is always a concern in China – but picoChip Chief Technology Officer Doug Pulley said so far he has seen only upside.”

This after “a couple of small-scale projects with BUPT” and a week in operation. Let’s see. Tiny startup in Bath, England working in China with a major Chinese university under the wing of the Ministry of Information Industries. Am I the only one who sees the Bambi-meets-Godzilla IPR risk here?

Good luck, picoChip. Really. I hope this turns out really well for you. I also hope you’re going to put some very senior people from Bath on the ground here permanently to oversee things at the lab. And I hope you’ve got outstanding legal advice.

UPDATE: In a superior example of corporate conversation, Rupert Baines picoChip’s vice president of marketing, left us a comment (see below) clarifying a few critical facts that were not evident in the article in EETimes:

1. The lab is to create enabling software only, not do chip design.

2. picoChip’s core IP remains separate from the lab.

3. The work BUPT does is only peripherally important to picoChip’s core business.

Okay, so it probably isn’t all THAT early to be giving everyone high fives. In fact, I’d go far as to say picoChip has structured their venture with BUPT with savvy and intelligence.

I’m going to be watching these guys.