China aims to shake US grip on chip design tools

China aims to shake US grip on chip design tools

Synopsys and Cadence veterans join local startups amid Beijing tech push

TAIPEI — Veteran engineers and high-level executives are leaving top U.S. chip design toolmakers for Chinese rivals as Beijing looks to break America’s near monopoly on this key segment of the semiconductor industry.

Three Chinese startups established since September last year were founded by or have hired executives and engineers from Synopsys and Cadence Design Systems of the U.S., the world’s two biggest makers of electronic design automation (EDA) tools, as such software is known.

These startups include Nanjing-based X-Epic, Shanghai Hejian Industrial Software, and Hefei-based Advanced Manufacturing EDA Co., or Amedac, in which Synopsys owns a stake.

The push to recruit U.S. chip tool talent comes as Washington’s crackdown on Huawei Technologies exposes key weaknesses in China’s chipmaking ecosystem, including in EDA tools, which are used to design integrated circuits, printed circuit boards and other electronic systems.

America has long dominated the segment, with Synopsys, Cadence, Mentor Graphics and Ansys controlling some 90% of the global market for EDA tools. Mentor was taken over by Siemens in 2017 but maintains extensive research and development operations in the U.S. These four companies own much of the intellectual property needed for chip development, and count the world’s top chip developers as clients, including Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Micron and Huawei.