Sep 102014

Ciphra PadlockCiphra makes selling IP just like selling semiconductor devices. Using Ciphra, IP can now be shipped in small quantities, broadening the target market for your IP, and allowing it to be instantiated in FPGAs during the development or prototyping stage at a low cost to your customer without compromising your IP’s security.

The instantiated IP is fully functional and your customer can adjust their purchasing to the demand for their product. This allows your customer to make smooth transitions from prototype to pre-production and through to the marketplace. Whether your customer is buying small quantities or is already in volume manufacture, Ciphra neatly scales to fit the demand. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that your IP is protected by another layer of security.

Ciphra also gives you the opportunity to offer a sliding-scale price structure to your customers. By shifting some of the IP revenue to the manufacturing stage you can reduce the resistance to design-in from front line engineers. If your design-in overheads are small, this could become as easy as the decision to design-in a standard part, and makes it less cost-effective for potential customers to design the IP themselves. Meanwhile, your customer recognises that you are accommodating them during the costly development stage, because Ciphra moves costs from the design and development budget to the manufacturing bill of materials.

Ciphra’s technology works with all the main FPGA vendors, and customers can safely switch FPGA vendors or port the IP to different FPGAs or to different products. Ciphra can also be ported to work with ASICs.

An extra benefit to your customer is that, when they use IP protected by Ciphra, additional copy protection is created as a by-product. This is very useful when products are manufactured offshore or have a high intrinsic value. Using Ciphra’s technology also gives the end user greater confidence that that they have not purchased a clone. So Ciphra not only helps to protect and control your IP, but helps to protect the complete supply chain.

Ciphra has built-in inventory control so that quantities can be tracked simply. This provides an accurate and simple method for recovering royalties or determining price breaks. The Ciphra inventory control also permits circuit boards or end products to be uniquely identified, traced and/or validated during manufacturing, sales or in the field.

So, as you can see, Ciphra is more than just a secure and flexible method of selling IP … it is also an inventory control system, copy protection system and audit trail system.

How it works

When used with FPGAs Ciphra requires your IP to be in an encrypted form (all the main FPGA vendors provide this facility).

We provide you with a small footprint HDL module that you incorporate into your IP module prior to encryption. Alternatively, we can incorporate the IP module for you.

You then agree the terms of sale or a pricing structure with us or directly with your customer. You may want us to supply the encrypted IP core to the end customer or you can supply the encrypted IP core directly.

According to the agreement, we supply you or your customer with a tiny device which they must mount onto the PCB next to the FPGA containing your IP. This device can be as small as a 1206 surface mount resistor and is called the Signetum. One Signetum can authenticate multiple IP cores from different IP vendors and each Signetum is unique. The Signetum can be updated in situ should your customer’s IP requirement change.

We continue to supply your customer with Signetum devices and we record each individual Signetum’s unique identity, the date it was programmed and the IP that was authenticated. The signatures do not contain any encryption information and the encryption keys are different for all IP cores.

Multiple manufacturers IP cores might be authenticated with one Signetum but we would maintain strict confidentiality at all times.

Ciphra Design Flow Chart


1. How does using Ciphra differ from the sale of encrypted IP directly from an FPGA vendor’s website?
Ciphra enhances the vending process by which encrypted IP is offered for sale on an FPGA vendor’s website. When an end user purchases IP from an FPGA vendor, the number of units that can be manufactured containing the IP is only constrained by the contractual restrictions associated with that IP. If the vendor implements the Ciphra technology, the end customer will be required to fit a Signetum device in each unit in which the IP is used. Revenue can then be raised from the direct sale of the Signetum devices.

2. I’ve heard that the IP in FPGAs can be copied by capturing the stream sent via the programming link to configure the FPGA. Will my IP be vulnerable in this way?
When you sell an IP license the end user can already copy the programming file as many times as he chooses, subject only to contractual terms. Without Ciphra, if the programming stream is captured by a third party then a conventional FPGA design (i.e. your customer’s design incorporating your IP) could be copied. When Ciphra is used, the third party attempting to copy your design will have to purchase the Signetum device associated with your IP. This means another significant layer of security will need to be breached to make a copy, thus making piracy even less viable.

3. Supporting an end customer’s design costs me a lot of money, so I can’t afford to sell my IP in small quantities. Does Ciphra have anything to offer me?
Ciphra allows you to structure your commercial agreement to give you the best return for your investment. You can still recover the cost of supporting a design-in by charging non-recurring fees at the start of a contract and then charging per Signetum device used per unit. Alternatively you could simply stipulate a minimum order quantity for the first batch of Signetum devices or load the pricing for smaller quantities.

4. I prefer to charge customers a royalty or commission in proportion to the number of units shipped, so I already have a method for tracking the number of shipped units. What does Ciphra offer me?
Ciphra can enhance a royalty/commission agreement in a number of ways. For example, the sale of individual Signetum devices removes the need to audit the number of units manufactured. Your customer will purchase Signetum devices before the units are manufactured, which will improve your cash flow when compared to a conventional royalty/commission agreement where sales might only be associated with shipped units. You will also remove the intrusiveness often associated with auditing shipped units. Finally, during purchasing, your customer is more likely to treat your IP as they would any other electronic components as the IP is associated with a physical device, the Signetum.

 5. Does the Signetum add to the cost of my IP?
Obviously you are in control of the end user price for each IP block enabled by a Signetum, and this will reflect the value of your IP and other costs. You are at liberty to apply additional non-recurring up front charges. The Signetum is designed to be manufactured in high volume at low cost.



Signet n. a seal used instead of or with a signature as authentication. 2. the royal seal formerly used for special purpose in England and Scotland and later as the seal of the Court of Session in Scotland. Compound; signet-ring a ring with a seal set in it. Latin. Signetum
The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Oxford University Press.

Cipher also Cypher n. (14c from medieval latin ciphra) 1. A secret way of writing. 2. the interlace initials of a person or company etc.; a monogram.
The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Oxford University Press.


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