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Chip wars: How ‘chiplets’ are emerging as a core part of China’s tech strategy

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July 13 (Reuters) – The sale of struggling Silicon Valley startup zGlue’s patents in 2021 was unremarkable except for one detail: The technology it owned, designed to cut the time and cost for making chips, showed up 13 months later in the patent portfolio of Chipuller, a startup in China’s southern tech hub Shenzhen.

Chipuller purchased what is referred to as chiplet technology, a cost efficient way to package groups of small semiconductors to form one powerful brain capable of powering everything from data centers to gadgets at home.

The previously unreported technology transfer coincides with a push for chiplet technology in China that started about two years ago, according to a Reuters analysis of hundreds of patents in the U.S. and China and dozens of Chinese government procurement documents, research papers and grants, local and central government policy documents and interviews with Chinese chip executives.

Industry experts say chiplet technology has become even more important to China since the U.S. barred it from accessing advanced machines and materials needed to make today’s most cutting edge chips, and now largely underpins the country’s plans for self-reliance in semiconductor manufacturing.

“U.S.-China competition is on the same starting line,” Chipuller chairman Yang Meng said about chiplet technology in an interview with Reuters. “In other (chip technologies) there is a sizeable gap between China and the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan.”

Barely mentioned before 2021, Chinese authorities have highlighted chiplets more frequently in recent years, according to a Reuters review. At least 20 policy documents from local to central governments referred to it as part of a broader strategy to increase China’s capabilities in “key and cutting-edge technologies”.

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