For Sale: Big Blue's Design A Chip Software

Since IBM's fortunes started slipping a few years ago, the computer giant has slowly been selling technology it once jealously guarded. But one crown jewel has never been available to outsiders: the electronic tools Big Blue uses to design computer chips. Its electronic design automation (EDA) programs have long been the envy of the electronics world.

Now, IBM Technology Products plans to build a business around its EDA technology. Its Logic Bench series, the key product line, automates chip design through a technique known as synthesis. Rather than having to draw the thousands or even millions of circuits that go into each chip, synthesis allows engineers simply to describe what they want their creation to do--the software does the rest. While other chip makers have struggled to synthesize garden-variety chips for years, IBM has been using this "no-hands" approach since 1980. But selling the stuff may be tougher than using it. Heavyweights such as American Telephone & Telegraph and Hewlett-Packard have repeatedly tried and failed to enter the fast-paced, $3 billion EDA business.

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