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CSET Examines Export Control Challenges of RISC-V Chip Architecture

The U.S. likely will face challenges trying to place export controls on RISC-V, an open-source semiconductor architecture that policymakers fear China may use to evade export restrictions and leapfrog their U.S. competitors, Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology said this week.

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The House Select Committee on China in November told Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo they are concerned China is looking to use RISC-V to undermine export controls, calling for “urgent action.” But CSET data research analyst Jacob Feldgoise said controlling RISC-V technology is “easier said than done."

That’s partly because the company that manages it, technology foundation RISC-V International, moved to Switzerland in 2020 to limit its exposure to U.S. export controls (see 1911260049). Companies can “access and implement” RISC-V “free of charge,” CSET said, “avoiding costly licensing fees they would otherwise pay to” chip companies.

The U.S. could try to place controls on U.S. persons’ involvement in RISC-V standards development, but it’s likely that RISC-V “standards development efforts would continue, and it is unclear whether China’s RISC-V design efforts would be significantly hindered,” CSET said. That would risk ceding tech standards leadership to China or cause firms to “move overseas or to adopt less efficient technologies.”

CSET suggested that the U.S. consider “supporting, rather than controlling,” the development of RISC-V. “If RISC-V truly does present an opportunity for Chinese design firms to leapfrog their U.S. competitors,” CSET said, “it stands to reason that encouraging U.S. design firms to adopt RISC-V architectures could mitigate that threat and facilitate innovation at home.”