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No. 353, February 1999

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Japanese Companies in the US


SEMICONDUCTORS

Building on a 1996 relationship, FUJITSU, LTD. and RAMTRON INTERNATIONAL CORP. have signed a two-year agreement to develop the process technology for embeddable, 0.35-micron, 3-volt, multilevel metal ferroelectric random access memories. The program is designed to improve standard memory devices as well as advanced integrated circuits like microcontrollers and application-specific ICs with embedded memory. Development of the world's first 0.35-micron FRAM process will involve Ramtron's Colorado Springs, Colorado facility, which will be equipped with Fujitsu-supplied processing equipment, and the Japanese partner's Iwate prefecture CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) plant. In the second half of this year, Fujitsu will begin volume production at the Iwate facility of 64-kilobit and 256-kilobit FRAMs using 0.5-micron design rules. Ramtron has FRAM licensing and manufacturing agreements with HITACHI, LTD., ROHM CO., LTD. and TOSHIBA CORP. in addition to Fujitsu.

NEC CORP. licensed its new 32-bit V850E microcontroller core, part of the company's 0.25-micron ASIC standard cell library, to TEXAS INSTRUMENTS INC. for use in TI's fast-expanding family of digital signal processors. With a clock speed of 100 MHz at 2.5 volts, the V850E core offers a wide selection of user-configurable features and integration options. The first TI DSP incorporating the NEC part will be released this spring.

Looking to the day not far off when consumer electronics products and appliances will be able to communicate with each other via a home network, MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD. invested in EPIGRAM, INC. The three-year-old Sunnyvale, California company has developed chipsets that permit 10-megabit-per-second home network connectivity using existing telephone lines. The parts, based on Epigram's InsideLine technology, can be embedded in PCs, modems, cable modems, set-top boxes, television sets and other information devices. The investment by MEI, one of the world's biggest producers of electronic products for the home, actually was made by the company's Panasonic Digital Concepts Center in Cupertino, California (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 350, November 1998, p. 5) in its first such move. The amount of money involved was not disclosed, but industry sources put it at less than $4.2 million, which gave MEI a share of 10 percent tops in Epigram.

MITSUBISHI ELECTRIC CORP. also sees a major market developing in the United States in the next few years for chips that implement the Home API (application programming interface) standard for operating appliances via PCs. The company will begin sampling Home API semiconductors in the spring of 2000, with commercial sales scheduled to start in 2001. The Home API initiative is spearheaded by MICROSOFT CORP., INTEL CORP. and COMPAQ COMPUTER CORP.

Hoping that the integration of its two U.S. semiconductor operations will strengthen its market position, ASAHI KASEI MICROSYSTEMS CO., LTD. merged AKM DESIGN TEK, INC. and AKM SEMICONDUCTOR, INC. The former was a San Diego, California design and development firm; the latter company, based in San Jose, California, was the marketing arm. Both were set up in 1995. The combined business, which retains the AKM Semiconductor name, is headquartered in San Diego, with a marketing office in San Jose. AKM is an ASAHI CHEMICAL INDUSTRY CO., LTD. affiliate.

Big automatic test equipment manufacturer ADVANTEST CORP. has bolstered its U.S. capabilities with the formation of ADVANTEST TEST ENGINEERING CORP. in Santa Clara, California. The engineering services company complements Advantest's Buffalo Grove, Illinois-headquartered North American sales and distribution subsidiary and a development subsidiary that also is located in Santa Clara. .....Meanwhile, ADVANTEST CORP. has installed one of its ultrahigh-speed (up to 1 gigahertz) T5591 test platforms at VIKING COMPONENTS INC.'s headquarters in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. The company, a major maker of memory upgrade products for both semiconductor makers and computer manufacturers, is using the system to test DDR (double data rate) synchronous DRAM and RAMBUS INC.'s RIMM memory modules. A major selling point of the T5591 for Viking Components was the easy customization of the system to accommodate the varying test requirements of its OEM customers. Advantest introduced the T5591 in 1998.

An exchange rate of ¥120=$1.00 was used in this report.

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