Tuesday, July 27, 2010

TSR Market Data - Now in English

Tech-On published an English version of TSR image sensor analyst interview referred in the post few days ago. The interesting market shares graph is translated to English as well:


  1. "Q: How about the shipment of image sensors for Chinese imitation mobile phones?"

    This...is...absolutely...hilarious, a bit of deadpan comedy genius.

    Okay, I have to go share it with my wife, then wait until we both stop laughing.

  2. Those colours :/

  3. @CDM

    What if the cheap (read fake) imitation electronics outperform the origin one ;)

  4. Some notes...

    (1) For non-native speakers of English, the word "imitation" as used implies appearing to be something but not actually being that something. So, for instance, "imitation iPhone" makes sense as "a device that looks like an iPhone but that isn't actually an iPhone." The analogous meaning of "imitation mobile phones" in this very serious discussion of the image sensor market was very funny to me in context.

    (2) Per Konrad Lorenz, "Humor and knowledge are the two great hopes of civilization." (from p. 298 of _On Agression_)

    (3) Maybe a better translation would be something like "counterfeit", "knock-off", "look-alike" or "copycat". As the first two have strong connotations of illegality and shoddiness respectively, I'd go with copycat myself.

    (4) Regarding the vr-zone article...

    The copycat, look-alike, knock-off or counterfeit production is clearly a form of cheating.

    Hopefully we can all agree on that.

    Company A spends a lot of time, money, and effort working on a new product design for its brand, and Company B has none of these costs, but just spends a small amount of money on copying the final or near-final results of Company A's work.

    Of course the product from Company B is going to "outperform" Company A's product in a market where customers are price-conscious and either not aware that they are not getting the genuine Company A product or - worse - enthusiastic consumers of products that they know are not genuine.

    We should still call it what it is: cheating. And we should not try to excuse the behavior of the people who are doing the cheating or knowingly supporting it.

    (5) Getting back to image sensors and the original post, I'd appreciate comments from people with more knowledge than I have on what exactly the "Chinese imitation mobile phones" market segment is.

    Are the image sensor volume shares we're discussing mainly VGA sensors that are being packaged into copycat product designs for the local Chinese market? Or, does a meaningful portion of this segment include original Chinese designs under original brands that are giving Chinese consumers less at a lower price honestly?

    I don't know. More information would be helpful.

    Personally, I'd be very hesitant to confer respect on a company whose business success stems mainly from supplying parts to counterfeiters.

  5. conterfacting is of course a shame. But sometimes, this imitation activity reflects a real market need for some particular period. Indeed there is normaly no conflict. For example a poor guy buys a fake LV bag, there is no damage for LV, because this poor guy can never buy the real one. The serious problem comes when the fake bag is almost as good as the real one which can be accepted by the potential real LV buyers.

    Consumer electronic goods are not purely technology dominated today, it becomes like a fashion object. So appearance design and ergonical factor are key of success. All these things are difficult to protect with patents and copyright. Consumers will recognize always the fashion initiator by affording higher price, but this grace window becomes shorter and shorter.

    Appel creates the new way for music listenning, internet surfacing, etc... But they can not stop other doing the same thing. They have to provide some other features such as performance, quality and reasonable price, etc ...

  6. The great invention of Appel is their App Store. Without application, a smart phone is nothing than empty PDA+Phone. Appel can not create all the applications, but with this social sharing, the iPhone can have a huge reserve of applications and they earn also a lot of money.

  7. @CDM

    "We should still call it what it is: cheating."

    Ah welcome to the domain of morality! I understand your concerns, but (for arguments sake) if we look deeper into this aspect-- isn't "business for profit" by its very nature: cheating? Now, are we morally justified by comparing a dignified cheater to a boorish cheater? I hope I have indulged you in a philosophical palaver!

  8. "The great invention of Appel is their App Store."
    Nokia invented it 1 year earlier with OVI (2007, 2008 for App store).
    I think Steve Job's Apple is more talented to aggressively introduce on mass markets concepts and inventions developed by other companies. Their whole business is based on market, consumer behavior and payable services through high-end (poor quality) products...
    An example for China inner emerging markets!

  9. Business for profit is not by its very nature cheating.

    I can understand the it-doesn't-hurt-the-company argument, but I don't agree with it.

    Let's say the real bag cost is 40, the regular retail price is 100, and the imitation bag price is 20. If the poor guy would by the real bag at a deep discount price of 41, his purchase of the imitation hurts the company. Or, if he sells it to someone else for 50, who wouldn't buy at 100 but who would buy on sale at 70, that hurts the company. Or, if he gives it to his wealthy cousin as a holiday gift and the cousin opts not to buy a real bag at 100, that hurts the company.

    I think it-doesn't-hurt-the-company is a way to make the poor guy buyer feel like buying the fake bag is okay.

    When I was a kid my dad had a job for a while packing first-aid kits for a small company that sold first-aid kits. He'd work in a warehouse all day, and the company owner would sit in an air-conditioned office smoking cigars and watching my dad through a big window. Sometimes the boss would walk out on the warehouse floor to check my dad's progress, but at some point he'd head off in his nice car to go to lunch or dinner, while my dad kept working. (I'd be there sometimes on school vacations or weekends when there was no one else to look after me.)

    Anyway, if there wasn't an order to fill on any given day, the owner would tell my dad not to come in and also wouldn't pay him. The owner wouldn't have to sell his cigar collection or his nice car, but on that day my dad wouldn't get money that we depended on for that week's food and other expenses.

    So ultimately, even if a company is big, rich, and selling a prestige item at a premium price (like a camera-equipped mobile phone), the little-guy cheating at one end winds up hurting little guys at the other end.

    For me, excusing cheating behavior is not something I'm ever going to be comfortable with.

  10. Sorry sir, the real LV bag is probably 1000 !

  11. I don't know or care what an LV bag is, so the pricing details are lost on me.

    However, I would like to learn more about the composition of the Chinese mobile market where Galaxycore, OmniVision, et al. are selling VGA image sensors. Does it mainly have original Chinese designs that have lower prices because they use lower-cost, less-capable components, or does it mainly have low-price local imitations of higher-performance, higher-price phones from other manufacturers (e.g. a VGA "Samsumg" that looks almost identical to popular Samsung model with a much higher resolution imager)? Or, if both are available, what are the relative proportions of the total volume?

  12. The story is easy to understand. The component cost is almost the same and even there is a difference, this difference is not that big. The white-brand chinese mobile market has two periods, the first one was during the 90's and chinese phone makers imported GSM module from abroad and only did the assembly. The phone price was high and they have earned a lot of money. The bad thing was that they didn't invest this money into R&D and when big brands such Noika, Motorola counter attacked, they all lots their business.

    The second period is with MediaTek, a taiwan company. MediaTek put on the market a highly integrated solution with very low entry barrier. The white-brand mobile phone makers resurect and propose all kind of "smart" phone with camera, etc.

    With Mediatek chipset, the intregation of multi-media funcationality becomes so easy and these products can even compete with some "big brand" products. Mediatek supports certain number of CMOS sensors, and a sensor in their list is really pulg&play, so special knowledge is needed.

    Saying constantly in this forum, that all the chinese companys' success is based on "cheating" is unfair and also misleading. There does be some fundamental reasons for this. Chinese market is a big market and also a very special market. At the beginning, the mobile phone was symbol of richness and success. Even a low quality one can be sold at good price. But now it's a commodity product, people looks for the best performance/price ratio, looks for funny design, etc.

    For high revenu rich guys in the big cities, they need totally different products than the relatively poor guys in the countryside. This difference doesn't exist in western countries.

    Again back to VGA level sensor, all the knowledges for an average/usable VGA sensor are in the public domain. So the key of success is no longer technical only but mostly marketing oriented.

  13. Anon - good and interesting post. But, no one said "all Chinese companies". You only seem to hear what you want to hear it seems.

    Personally, I don't use the term cheating. But, some Chinese companies are IP pirates, including for image sensors. They take IP developed by other companies and protected by patent law and just use it. This has happened in other countries, including the USA in the early 1800's when manufacturing equipment was copied from England, for example. After WWII, it was Japan that was the copycat, but usually with US investment. Taiwan and Korea did the same thing in the 80's/90's. Now it is China's turn to be the main high-tech IP pirate country.

    This gets me to my next-to-last comment. I keep reading statements such as "all the knowledges for an average/usable VGA sensor are in the public domain". While your point above is valid, as far as IP goes, just because it is public does not mean it is free to use. In fact, the whole point of patents is to make the knowledge public while protecting the IP assignee for a limited period of time. Perhaps there are few patents on CIS devices in China. I know Caltech and Photobit almost never filed a patent in China because of lax enforcement - so why waste the money. But sooner or later those sensors will find their way to countries that do support substantial IP enforcement and that is when the fun will begin.

    My last comment goes back to the beginning of this thread of comments (previous TSR posting) and Galaxycore. I understand that Galaxycore's rise in China's markets has everything to do with pricing and not much to do with high performance or innovation. I remain sure that Galaxycore did not invest much R&D into image sensor design and SMIC did not invest much R&D into the CIS process. So, the reason for Galaxycore's low price is probably because they efficiently copied the salient features of successful CMOS image sensor products and kept their costs low by using a ultra low cost fab. I am impressed by Galaxycore's market "success" about as much as I am of anyone successfully selling stolen goods at a below-market low cost.

  14. If any one wants an average performance VGA sensor without using any so-called patented knowledage, please leave your message here !

    CMOS sensor development started at early 70's and a lot of so called patents are difficult to defend. You can get an issued patent, but you have to defend it. If you can show the valid argument that this is patent has anteriority, the patent falls.

    US is very protectionist in patent issue. All the foreign patent application extensions to USA will be rejected systematically at the first time. In mean time a lot of gabage patent applications are granted. The initial Caltech patent was on local charge transfer, so it has nothing to do with 3T pixel design. 3T pixel design has been used widely before the CMOS boom.

  15. if only...protection would be for a truly limited time (say 3-5 years) and the USPTO wouldn't be granting pretty much every "discovery" as if it were an "invention" and wouldn't be granting "obvious combinations" or even ommissions, I could agree the engineering community should be be morally rejecting what you call "IP piracy" ...

    Our field evolves fast and 5 years should be an absolute maximum life-time for any patent...

  16. 5 years? Come on, that is just silly.
    It takes 5 years for industry to wake up to academic R&D, it takes another 3 years to develop a product and get it to market, and another 5 years for decent market penetration. Who is going to invest in product development if you are not protected by the time the market takes off? 17 years actually is quite resonable.

    Just as an example, it has been about 17 years since the time we started getting interesting results on CMOS APS devices with intra-pixel charge transfer at Caltech/JPL. I can assure you that at that time, nearly the entire image sensor community thought CMOS image sensors were a bad idea. Just ask anyone at the 1993 CCD/AIS Workshop.

  17. My own personal experience is that the US PTO rejects every patent the first time through, so it's probably not special protectionist treatment for international extensions. At least, the PTO has rejected all of my applications initially, frequently for both real and imaginary reasons. (I tell my wife these are "complex" reasons.)

    As I see it, the patent examiners are weak in science/engineering and language, but strong in bureaucratic procedure, and have a goal of finishing examinations. Usually they are dealing with patent lawyers who are weak in science/engineering, strong in language, and weak in bureaucratic procedure, and have a goal of getting something to call a patent so they can bill the client. Or, if the lawyers are strong in BP, they at least don't control the BP well, so to speak.

    Both sides play to their strengths to reach their objectives. Since they're both weak in the science/engineering aspect, it's easier to leave the difficult issues of whether an invention really is new and non-obvious to later litigation, if the idea happens to attract big money.

    Sometimes there's a scientist or engineer involved, who usually has excellent science/engineering skills but weak language and BP skills. Good luck cleaning up the spill if this is you.

  18. Well, a correctly defined application must be initially rejected by the USPTO. If it's accepted right away, it means that your lawyer defined it too narrowly and you'd better look for another lawyer.

    Getting back to Galaxycore IP infringement story, if Caltech and Photobit have not filed their patents in China, Galaxycore can legally do whatever it wants, as long as it designs, manufactures and sells its sensors locally and its final customer in the end of the foodchain is in China as well.

  19. "At least, the PTO has rejected all of my applications initially, frequently for both real and imaginary reasons. (I tell my wife these are "complex" reasons.)"

    Your complex "argument" will be in "phase" for those who wish to work in lie-algebra.. Believe me, no Hyperbole involved ;)

  20. "Just as an example, it has been about 17 years since the time we started getting interesting results on CMOS APS devices with intra-pixel charge transfer at Caltech/JPL. "

    and do you really believe it's reasonable that everyone selling image sensors with these pixels should be paying a license fee??

    Your earlier arguments emphasized millions of R&D $$$ and companies cheaply copying IP developed by other companies. You were concerned over unfair competition by these companies.

    Now it seems you're concerned over (often paid for by tax payers' money) R&D performed at academic institutions. You have to know what you want.

    We all witnessed this same discussion a few months ago (http://image-sensors-world.blogspot.com/2010/05/galaxycore-features-on-i-micronews-site.html) ... it seems, as I said before, the engineering community is not morally rejecting this so called piracy.

    "it's easier to leave the difficult issues of whether an invention really is new and non-obvious to later litigation, if the idea happens to attract big money."

    In my view, as long as patent law and litigation is really all about job creation and a money making machine for lawyers, I doubt you will ever find the engineering community morally reject "IP piracy" ... if engineers would have their own Hippocratic oath, it would probably involve rejecting the current patent law. It does not serve the purpose it was intended for, but rather slows down scientific progress and allows valuable financial resources to be spent on litigation rather than scientific research.

  21. Anon, I snorted my drink when you presume to read the minds of the silent majority and then speak for them

    Of course I feel it is reasonable that companies using Caltech's IP to enrich themselves should pay a small royalty, especially as the money mostly goes to support higher education. Fortunately for Caltech, all major players have come to the same conclusion. You have also correctly observed that there are multiple things I am concerned about. Am I only allowed to chose one in your universe?

    I completely reject your view espoused in your final paragraph. But, for the sake of focus, perhaps you can explain how patent law "slows down scientific progress."

  22. I *seems* to me I was merely summarizing the thoughts of the not so silent minority in the earlier discussion I refered to, I paid attention to my choice of words.

    These companies "enriching" themselves paid taxes that funded education as it was and werecreating cheap products for the consumers and jobs for our engineers along the way. Many of them also did not have such an "enriching" experience as it takes much more than a good idea to build a sustainable business...

    You are allowed to have as many concerns as you like, but when you build your argument around R&D $$$ and abandon that argument when it doesn't serve your purpose I'd say you may want to rethink how you came to your conclusions and formed your opinion in the first place.

    As to how the current process (note I do not oppose patent law in general, just the way it works today) slows down progress:

    1) the most obvious one: we're spending millions of $$ on lawyers that are not spent on R&D. The CalTech exercise (it is interesting to learn that you *know* what the major players settled at well enough to claim they came to the same conclusion) has had the net effect that high-tech industry money has gone into the pockets of lawyers once again. So how exactly does scientific progress benefit from that?

    2) people waste time trying to "work around" patents, often times the "obvious" kind that would probably not survive litigation, so rather than using a good idea (one they have come up with independently) they are forced to use an inferior solution rather than gradually improving upon the initial idea - not only do we miss an opportunity to improve, but the time wasted in "working around the patent" is lost for eternity (I'm not saying that trying to work around patents cannot yield other interesting thoughts...but oh so often...it just does not)

    3) in other cases such engineer would check up with patent lawyers to see if this thing is really patentable...again...R&D $$ wasted on lawyers

    Yes we need a system that allows to motivate people to innovate, we need to avoid free-riders taking the profit from a set of naive innovators, but I fail to see how the current patent law does that. It is really just good for lawyers, and that's it.

    Moreover, a lot of 'not so fundamental' ideas (such as the peninsula tx-gate from omnivision to take an active example) really don't need 17 years of protection for the innovator to reap the benefits of the R&D they did to the extent that they are motivated to keep investing.

    I'd be much more worried about the lack of interest our youngsters in the US show in our profession (maybe because it's so much easier to make money as a lawyer?) as a threat to US innovation than I would be about Chinese companies cheaply manufacturing VGA sensors.


  23. I believe I was merely summarizing the thoughts of the not so silent minority in the other discussion and stating that, based on that it seemed like... etc...

    You draw the conclusion that the "major players" have come to the same conclusion. How do you know that? It seems to me they were more or less forced to come to a certain conclusion...

    you can have as many concerns as you like, but you built your argument around one concern and apparently couldn't find an argument in that concern to reject my comments. That is food for thought. It may be good to rethink how you came to your conclusions.

    many non-fundamental ideas really don't need 17 years to mature .. and let's be honest .. look at random at some patents and what do you find?

    engineers trying to work around patents rather than working with them and improving the state of the art, R&D $$ spent on lawyers and engineers wasting time, ... I'd say it's obvious how that slows down progress.

    I worry more about our youngsters not being interested in our profession as a threat to US innovation. Perhaps this is because they see one can make a lot more money, without adding any real-world value, by working as a lawyer.


  24. Wicky Anon,
    You probably don't know this, but corporations pay only about 12-14% of all collected taxes in the USA. see IRS fact sheet: http://www.irs.gov/taxstats/article/0,,id=102886,00.html
    So, really, when you spend government R&D tax dollars you are spending little, proportionately, of corporate tax dollars. Anyway, we could get into a long economics debate which is well beyond the scope of this thread. In my view, in the end, it is all a big redistribution-of-wealth process according to time-varying principles of politics and power. Meanwhile, I hope the redistribution is not to Communist China.

    You lost me on the whole building an argument thing so I can't really respond. I don't think I switched gears at all. Again, this is getting way beyond this blog's intent.

    Caltech and its successful lawsuits' outcomes can be found by simple web searching, but I don't know the amounts. But, I heard they were contemplating a new "CMOS APS" building on campus...heh

    I do concur that some patents seem lower on the totem pole of innovation than others. But if it makes the sensor work better, then good for them. In this case, it does not seem like a good idea but that is a different post.

    You might be better off making the argument that patents can hurt the little guy more than the big companies with their cross-licensing agreements in place.

    I am all for certain patent reforms, but most of these laws and processes have evolved for real reasons, even if they aren't apparent when your nose is to the grindstone.

  25. Who pays the salaries of those who pay the rest of the taxes? I would need to get into macro-economics basics to explain why the US consumers are really paying a portion of the fines to Caltech, but that is beyond the intent of this blog. But you're right, not all taxes come from the industry. Some taxes are in fact paid by lawyers.

    Do you agree spending money on lawyers slows down progress?

    Caltech: You miss my point - how do you know these corporations came to the said conclusion. It's not because they were forced to settle that they concluded that is "right".

    Assuming there may have been good reasons for certain rules and processes ending up the way they did is one thing. Assuming those good reasons remain valid is another. This is not a very strong argument...

    I agree this is getting well beyond the purpose of this blog, as were your statements about Galaxycore.



All comments are moderated to avoid spam and personal attacks.