Pirates Abound: The Problem with IP for OEM’s
BY KURT FLECHSIG, KDF
There is a growing concern within the competitive semiconductor industry about re-builders and third party companies that make a business from copying the IP of others and then try and spin it into the term of Reverse Engineering. The last time I checked that term is just a PC way of saying you’re not STEALING. Activity of this nature can best be referred to as Pirating since it best describes their activity. As an OEM we develop our core competencies to bring a higher level of value, knowledge
and capabilities to our customers rather than the pirate companies whose premise is to pretend to bring value added to a product they have no rights to.
In todays’ cutthroat, price is all that matters society, the assault against OEM’s is relentless, specifically sputtering cathodes, gas cooling and proprietary software development. Customers seem to lose sight of the benefits when dealing with the OEMs that actually spend the money and create the knowledge base while developing these new concepts and products that other people try to leverage off of. When the foundations of OEM’s are chipped away by the unsavory practices by these Pirate run companies, it will eventually hurt the customer in the long run. Some third party rebuilders will argue that original OEM’s that have gone out of business are fair game for them to offer their alleged parts and services to keep such equipment running.
I would say that why would one want to deal with a company that does not have direct ownership of a product, or the insight behind the design of said product. The company you deal with should have the original parts, knowledge, and documentation to support such, otherwise you’re dealing with a lookalike replica product which will not perform or last as the original design intended.
As an example of such things I will illustrate some of the issues that face new equipment people.
Many pirates install a low-cost PLC retrofit controller with minimal software coding and features to replace the original systems controller. More often than not these controllers are used components or outdated models which allows having a greater profit on the goods sold while providing an inferior product to the customer. Our company provides the newest PLC systems which use a higher end controller than what the pirates offer. To ensure consistency of product, valued service and continued technical support, companies should rely on the original manufacturer’s software knowledge and not an outside source.
Customers afflicted by these pirates have suffered a multitude of problems due to false claims and poorly developed software. These include, but are not limited to out of date versions of software, copies of nonlicensed software, providing shareware as an operating system, and not owning a legal copy of development software licenses.
These kinds of poorly developed software are not created with static analysis practices or software testing customs in mind. In the fast-paced digital age, the importance of static code analysis cannot be ignored.
Our core competency is to make Brand new equipment which includes large investments in Engineering and Process Development for the systems we design, prototype and build. As an OEM we make investments into the R&D aspect of our products lines and we spend a great deal of resources to do so. KDF had designed upgrades into even our oldest product lines which go back 25 years, as an OEM we also continue to offer upgrades for our Legacy systems. KDF provides re-manufactured MRC/KDF tools as a cost savings to the customers with smaller budgets ,while still maintaining a high level of quality.
Furthermore, there is a big price point difference between remanufacturing and just performing a software upgrade. Re-manufacturing has the benefits of buying a new tool but at a reduced price. A customer most always keep in mind that certain obsolete components need to be replaced during the re-manufacture in order to ensure the tool is current and supportable for spare parts
in the continuing future of the tool.
The Pirate will frequently copy KDF’s Cathode or Magnet IP and then tried to pass it off as improved. They tout better system utilization but the truth is customers lose out on uniformity or overall performance. Cathodes are designed for a long manufacturing life, yet pirate replacements often do not stand up to longterm use and cost customers more money over time. As an OEM we have produced thousands of new cathodes, and we track and record the data to back up the performance of our Cathodes. In order to have a successful purchase customers expect and need a company that can supply process support. We have made this investment in thin film expertise and have the metrology instruments and personnel to supply such. A KDF system will leave our production floor with a qualified process running in that tool and arrive at the customer’s site ready for production.
In some situations, our staff will visit a customer’s site to provide service and support after one of these re-building companies has intervened. The typical dysfunctional equipment is now riddled with systemic problems along with processes that do not work. While we have a policy of not working on third party sys-Pirates Abound: The problem with IP for OEM’s By Kurt Flechsig, KDF tems, we can sometimes help by supplying parts and offering alternate means of repair. The majority of these customers usually end up paying more for the product and suffering with longer downtimes. We have seen many of these re-building companies come and go along with customers’ trust and budgets.
The best way to avoid these problems is to steer clear of these pirates in the first place. Don’t be lured in by low prices and software screen money shots. Before making a purchasing decision, refer to these tips to ferret out pirates:
- Documentation: Will the company provide software documentation that reflects their actual product? Software documentation should always be provided and not be left up to the imagination of the user.
- Will the company provide the source code? This is a red flag and, generally, should not be done. The vendor should retain ownership in order to provide the full service required over the life time of the tool.
- Can the vendor provide a safe code? A system may be able to run on 10k lines of code when it has no recovery actions or well written safety protocols.
- Who develops and updates the software, employees, third party or students? The level of experience of the developer is crucial for installation and ongoing service of the tool. Many times the code is created by an additional third party.
- Does your supplier own any of the rights to the equipment they are supplying?
- Can the vendor supply accurate prints and documentation about the components in the tool that do belong to them?
- Can the vendor supply full technical support for the tool and the process running in it?
- Can the supplier provide authentic references of actually customers with working equipment?
- Are you buying a reversed engineered tool and a one of kind system?
- Does the vendor supply new components, or rebuilt third party parts, aka pumps, power supplies, feed-throughs, or instruments?
- Does the vendor you have off site back up and file protections for all of their product aspects?
- Full remote backup via the internet, with in-house software engineers.
- Does the vendor have a full in-house Application Lab staffed with process literate scientists?
- Is the system safe? Does it meet any SEMI, S2, CE, NEC or NFPA standards?
As an OEM our company stands behind MRC and our own KDF systems. We are the sole official owner of MRC sputtering tools. Furthermore, we have programs in place in which we improve upon our current designs as well as ensure consistency and performance. We also are working with customers to develop new processes and hardware. Our in-house experienced software , mechanical and electrical engineers continually strive to develop products with the most up-to-date improvements and revision control. This is the key that will open the door to customers’ advanced process needs for their sputtering systems, and help them to meet their goals.
President & CEO
Tel: +1 (201) 784-5005