Startup Crocus Teams with IBM on Future Memory

October 05, 2011 - Wall Street Journal

One of the seemingly endless quests in Silicon Valley is finding a long-term successor to today’s memory chips. The matter is still not settled, but one candidate got a boost Wednesday.

Two backers of a technology called MRAM–IBM and startup Crocus Technology–announced plans to work together and cross-license each other to use their patents in the field. MRAM, which stands for magnetoresistive random-access memory, is among several candidates for a “universal” memory that could take on jobs that now require different kinds of chips.

Financial terms of the pact weren’t disclosed. But the two companies said they plan to meld IBM’s MRAM technology and know-how with a Crocus technology that combines MRAM circuitry with calculating functions.

Such devices–which Crocus calls MLUs, for magnetic logic units–are targeted for applications where both data storage and a small amount of computing power are needed. Bertrand Cambou, Crocus’s chief executive, sees initial applications like smart cards and smart passports–but also sees MRAMs eventually finding a home in cellphones.

“We don’t see ourselves as a memory company,” Cambou says. “We see ourselves as a solution.”

Crocus plans to carry out manufacturing in Russia under a $300 million joint venture with a government investment fund there.

Christopher Andrews, an IBM spokesman, said the company is not disclosing plans for how it will use the fruits of the joint venture. But he said it definitely hopes the effort will lead to the development of commercial products.

Cambou argued that MRAM is separating itself from the pack of other alternatives, which are seeking to combine the speed of chips known as DRAM with the ability of other chips such as flash memory to retain data without electrical current.

“We firmly believe this memory is going to be the mainstream of the mainstream,” he said.