U.S.-based chip tech group moving to Switzerland over trade curb fears

A U.S.-based foundation that oversees promising semiconductor technology will soon move to Switzerland as the group's foreign members raised concerns about potential curbs on U.S. trade.

Final approvals from Switzerland are expected as soon as the end of November.

The nonprofit RISC-V (pronounced "risk-five") Foundation wants to ensure that universities, governments and companies outside the U.S. can help develop its open-source technology, its Chief Executive Calista Redmond said, adding that its members are "concerned about possible geopolitical disruption."

"From around the world, we've heard that 'If the incorporation was not in the U.S., we would be a lot more comfortable'," she said.

VCG Photo

VCG Photo

The move from the U.S. to Switzerland may foreshadow further technology flight because of U.S. restrictions on dealing with some Chinese technology companies, said William Reinsch, who was undersecretary of commerce for export administration in the Clinton administration.

"There is a message for the government. The message is, if you clamp down on things too tightly this is what is going to happen. In a global supply chain world, companies have choices, and one choice is to go overseas," he said.

Created in 2015, RISC-V sets standards for core chip architecture and controls who can use its trademark on products. More than 325 companies or other entities pay to be members.

Some of RISC-V's members. /Screenshot from RISC-V

Some of RISC-V's members. /Screenshot from RISC-V

In June, more than two dozen standards groups warned that the Huawei restrictions posed a "serious risk" that standards work could move out of the U.S.

A Huawei spokesman expressed support for the move to Switzerland, saying that "making open source as open as possible is important for the industry."

Read more: Huawei VP: U.S. runs risk of tech isolation

The move indicates how the China-U.S. trade tension could make the U.S. a harder place to host technology standards groups, according to two attorneys who represent such groups.

The board's seven current members are all based in North America. After the move, the foundation's board will be expanded and European and Asian members will be added, said Redmond.

China employing RISC-V in chip-making

RISC-V chip architecture can be used to make microprocessors for almost every type of electronic device. Chinese chipmakers have been adopting open-source solutions to attain self-sufficiency as the U.S. increasingly blacklists Chinese tech companies.

Pingtouge's XuanTie 910 shown at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference, August 2019. /VCG Photo

Pingtouge's XuanTie 910 shown at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference, August 2019. /VCG Photo

The country formed the China RISC-V Industry Consortium in 2018, while the Shanghai government has granted RISC-V specific investments the same year.

As the world's largest semiconductor market, China is expected to lead the way in adopting RISC-V.

Employing RISC-V, Alibaba subsidiary Pingtouge Semiconductor unveiled the XuanTie 910 in July, a processor that will power technology for the Internet of Things (IoT) and claimed it to be the fastest RISC-V processor to date.

Huami, an affiliate of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, announced in August the launch of wearable devices with chips developed using RISC-V.

Other Chinese companies like Espressif Systems, NucleiSystemTechnology and Ingenic Semiconductor are also employing RISC-V in chip-making.

(With input from Reuters)