RISC-V moves to neutral Switzerland over trade disruption

The nonprofit RISC-V Foundation is relocating to Switzerland over concerns about the impact of U.S. trade policies.

Foundation CEO Calista Redmond told Reuters that its members are “concerned about possible geopolitical disruption.” The foundation’s board approved the move unanimously after hearing members around the globe say that they would be “a lot more comfortable… if the incorporation were not in the U.S.,” she added.

RISC-V is a young organization, founded in 2015 and located in Delaware, to set standards for chip architectures that are allowed to use the RISC-V trademark on its products. RISC-V is a reduced instruction set architecture that is open source technology that anyone can use to design, make or sell RISC-V chips and software for electronics.

On its website, RISC-V posted a statement at the bottom of its history page that said the U.S. has not imposed any export restrictions on the foundation and the foundation has complied with all US laws. “The move does not circumvent any existing restrictions, but rather alleviates uncertainty going forward,” the website said.

“Incorporation in Switzerland has the effect of calming concerns of political disruption to the open collaboration model,” the website continued. “The move reduces concern that a government would restrict the actions of an open source organization.”

Companies such as Qualcomm, NXP, Huawei and Alibaba Group are members, with a total of more than 325 in all. The U.S. Department of Commerce has named Huawei and other Chinese companies as a threat to U.S. national security.

Some lawmakers worried that the move is apparently intended to allow RISC-V to retain Chinese members subject to the U.S. blacklisting. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, said the move was “short-sighted” and has also asked President Trump to suspend special permits to U.S. firms that want to resume business with Huawei.

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RISC-V was started at UC Berkeley in 2010. From 2013 to 2018, the ASPIRE Lab at UC Berkeley took over the work, with funding from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). As such, DARPA wants the RISC-V work it funded to be publicly available to companies and universities globally, according to a spokesman.

Huawei issued a statement that it supports the Foundation move to Switzerland as a neutral venue for open source development. RISC-V might be a part of Huawei’s vision, the company said.

Many U.S. chipmakers have been concerned about losing sales to Huawei and have sought special permits to get around U.S. restrictions. One analyst, Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates, called the Foundation move “another negative impact resulting from the trade wars.”

Gold added: "When you create barriers to free exchange of ideas, people find ways around them. This is about setting a 'tone' that makes the US look like its pursuing unfair restrictions on tech exchange. I’m all for protecting legitimate IP from being stolen, but in this case, the heavy handedness of recent government decisions has created a reaction to what’s perceived as an unstable and untrustworthy resident country where no one knows if technology restrictions, even for open source, will be impacted."

"One should not assume that companies, particularly open source companies and associations, can’t simply move to another country perceived as being more tech friendly and stable, even if the original technology was invented here." Gold concluded.


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