Crocus Technology SA (Grenoble France), a developer of magnetic memory technology founded in 2004, has announced that it has licensed its Magnetic Logic Unit (MLU) technology to ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England).
ARM is a developer and licensor of processor-related intellectual property, but non-volatile memory – either separate to the main application processor IC or integrated within it – is becoming increasingly relevant to achieving future energy saving goals for mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The Crocus technology has additional relevance to security which is also significant in these applications.
Crocus said it will provide ARM with access to its MLU technology. This includes access to sub-90nm MRAM blocks that can replace traditional Flash based non-volatile memory, plus match-in-place technology that Crocus claims enhances the security of keys and other secret data.
How much money Crocus gains from the licensing deal and if, how and when ARM would bring MRAM technology to market were not disclosed.
"The potential impact of emerging non-volatile memory technologies is substantial. ARM is keen to investigate and understand how this may ultimately affect our broad ecosystem of silicon partners, OEMs and other stakeholders," said Vincent Korstanje, vice president of marketing, systems and software at ARM, in a statement distributed by Crocus. "ARM is pleased to be working with Crocus Technology to gain insight into a technology that could influence future secure devices and microcontrollers."
The MLU version of magnetic random access memory (MRAM) is a proprietary development of the thermally assisted switching (TAS) of a magnetic tunneling junction. A TAS MRAM cell usually relies on a fixed reference magnetic layer with which the variable storage layer is either in parallel or anti-parallel. Crocus has developed a sense-reference cell that allows both layers to change magnetic orientation. The SR-TAS memory not only operates as memory element but can also be configured as an exclusive OR logic element for which the output depends on the comparison of the stored data and the input information via the field line.
Crocus has built its match-in-place technology on top of the MLU memory cell structure. Whereby the 0s and 1s in a key can be compared with the stored original without revealing the key to the enquiring agent, thereby providing enhanced security. The claim is that MLU and match-in-place provide a rugged CMOS-compatible non-volatile memory that operates up to high temperatures while providing advantages in terms of performance, size and security for embedded memory in microcontrollers.
Foundries Tower Semiconductor Ltd. (Migdal Haemek, Israel) and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp. (Shanghai, China) are licensed manufactuers of the technology and Crocus is preparing to market tamper-resistant MLU-based microcontrollers that it is developing with IBM. Crocus is also planning to offer non-volatile SRAMs and magnetic sensors with integrated logic and memory under its own name.
Crocus also claims that its patent portfolio covers the more advanced spin-torque transfer form of MRAM and in October 2013 the company announced it had filed a petition with the US Patent and Trademark Office to overturn a magnetoresistive RAM patent that is part of the portfolio held by Spin Transfer Technologies Inc. (Fremont Calif.).
As well as startups most of the major memory companies are working on STT-MRAM including: SK Hynix working with Toshiba, Samsung Electronics which acquired Grandis Inc. in August 2011 and Qualcomm which working with Globalfoundries Inc. to develop MRAM technology.
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