University of California patents counterfeit chip detector

An on-chip detector designed to spot counterfeiting and recycling of integrated circuits (ICs) has been patented by the University of California.

The technology is based on a lightweight sensor, which monitors electromigration (EM)-induced aging effects – which occur due to the migration of metal atoms along a direction of the applied electrical field, leading to a lower metal density at the cathode end.

The system “exploits the natural aging/failure mechanism of interconnect wires to time the aging of the chip,” and will be able to detect when the age of an IC doesn’t correspond to what is claimed on a product’s labelling.

Electronic waste (e-waste) recycling is known to be a source of counterfeit ICs, with an estimated 250,000 people in China working specifically on recycling material from defunct electronic goods. That material is sometimes badged up as new and resold in the marketplace.

The abstract of the patent appears below:

On-chip aging sensor and counterfeit integrated circuit detection method

Abstract: An on-chip aging sensor and associated methods for detecting counterfeit integrated circuits are shown. In one example, the on-chip aging sensor is integrated within a chip. In one example, the on-chip sensor includes both an on-chip age sensor, and an antifuse memory block including static information unique to the chip.

US Patent No. 10,298,236

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