RISC-V International’s CEO warns against US export restrictions on open processor standards. Such measures could hinder global tech innovation and limit market access.
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US Congress Expresses Concern
Members of the US Congress have recently raised alarms over potential gaps in the nation’s effort to limit China’s access to advanced chip technology.
Some suggest that export restrictions be extended to RISC-V, a widely used open processor standard.
Such measures could see the Department of Commerce mandating US citizens and companies to secure an export license before liaising with Chinese entities concerning RISC-V technology.
However, the unique nature of RISC-V – an open instruction set that’s neither controlled by a single entity nor restricted to a specific country – raises questions about the feasibility of this proposed restriction.
Defending the Value of Open Standards
Calista Redmond, RISC-V International’s CEO, did not waste time expressing her thoughts.
She championed open standards via the organization’s blog, drawing parallels between RISC-V and other pioneering open technologies such as Ethernet and internet protocols.
Emphasizing that much of the tech industry has thrived thanks to such standards, she noted:
“Compatibility based on such standards is essential for innovation on a global basis within the larger tech ecosystem. Competition is not based on shared standards, but on the unique value each vendor adds on top of the standardized layer.”
Redmond cautioned that restricting open standards might hinder innovation and reduce global market accessibility.
Such restrictions would “lead to a world of incompatible solutions that duplicate effort and close off markets.”
Highlighting the global collaborative essence of RISC-V specifications, Redmond emphasized that the organization merely publishes universally accepted open standards.
Contrasting RISC-V with proprietary architectures, she highlighted that RISC-V standards can be utilized without proprietary licenses.
Chinese Involvement in RISC-V
The RISC-V landscape is full of Chinese presence.
Several Chinese firms play active roles in the RISC-V ecosystem.
A notable move from these entities was the establishment of a patent alliance earlier this year aimed at fostering community growth while sidestepping intellectual property litigations.
However, if the US aims to curtail China’s chip development capabilities, the focus might shift from design to the silicon technology used in chip manufacturing.
Andrew Buss, IDC’s senior research director for Europe, shed light on this, saying that restrictions might target the design-to-market chain, ranging from logical design to final product development stages.
Buss opined, “Arguably, the biggest impact restrictions will be those that limit access to advanced design and simulation tools.”
Furthermore, the US already has established restrictions, such as those on China’s purchase of chipmaking equipment.
The sale of equipment from Netherlands-based ASML, the sole provider of Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) machines crucial for 5nm and 3nm silicon production, has been curbed.
Echoing a similar sentiment, the UK government last year halted the sale of a British chip design software company to a Chinese entity, citing national security risks.
Potential Backfire of Restrictions
Buss offered a word of caution regarding such restrictions.
While they might hamper product generation in the short run, they might also incentivize China to enhance local skill sets and develop alternative solutions, inadvertently rendering the restrictions counterproductive.