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Europractice under threat

Europractice, the only way European universities, researchers and small businesses can get chip designs put into silicon, is under threat from a gap in its EC funding arrangements.

‘There is a danger,’ says Europractice in an email to its clients, ‘that after 20+ years of successful operation that the continuation of Europractice may be threatened due to familiarity and complacency.’

Europractice provides advanced chip design tools and uses multi-project wafer runs at leading foundries on leading edge processes to deliver advanced silicon to academics and start-ups.

664 European institutions, including 537 universities and 127 research institutes use Europractice design tools and fabrication facilities.

Now, however, there could be a six month gap in its operations as doubts arise over the future of the contributions to its funding made by the EC.

The email reads: ‘The current Europractice EC project (Europractice IC5) which extended the supported period by 1 year is due to expire on 31 December 2011. The next appropriate EC funding Call for this type of academic support is in January 2012. We will not know if the next Europractice project proposal has been successful in attracting EC funding until July 2012 at the earliest. Consequently there could be a gap in EC funding for a period of 6 months or longer.’

An email from Europractice to is clients states: ‘Although Europractice is funded to a large extent by End User Membership fees and design tool and IC fabrication charges, Europractice relies on continuous modest EC funding to be able to offer these stimulation activities and services to the academic sector at affordable prices. This is in stark contrast to comparable schemes elsewhere, such as CIC in Taiwan and CMC in Canada, which are almost entirely centrally funded.’

It continues: ‘As you may have gathered from the recent increase in IC fabrication prices on 1 August 2010, Europractice was not able to secure sufficient EC funding to subsidise advanced technology nodes to the more affordable levels offered previously. Consequently we can only hold the IC fabrication prices at the current level during 2011, until the subsidy has been consumed.’

One customer told EW: “Europractice plays a crucial role in offering modern design tools and access to good chip fabrication services to students and researchers, and in some cases small businesses. The service offers a crucial, unique bridge between

academic research and practical implementation. The many hundreds of electronics research institutions across Europe who use the service would be without an alternative if the service goes under. The software licenses and access to

MPW runs on decent processes would be unaffordable. My personal experience of the service is that it is efficiently and sensibly run; a ‘force multiplier’ which would be sorely missed.”

Europractice states: ‘Statistics from the October 2010 to September 2011 Membership and Design Tool maintenance invoice period indicate that many universities are currently struggling to pay their Europractice fees. Given this current poor financial climate and the potential gap of 6 months EC funding, the Europractice project partners will try to offer October 2011 to September 2012 Membership, Design Tool maintenance and IC fabrication (without subsidised IC fabrication prices for European Academia) during the gap period. However, if continuous and on-going EC support is not secured from the January 2012 Call, Europractice cannot continue to offer the current services thereafter.’

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