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  • My Candid Conversation with Karen Bartleson

    If you don’t know about Karen Bartleson, before I get into details, let me tell you that she was the President of IEEE-SA for the past 2 years and has been nominated by the IEEE Board of Directors as one of the candidates for IEEE President-Elect for 2016. The IEEE is an organization I admire as it plays a key role in advancing technology and innovation particularly in the electronic and semiconductor industry. Since electronics has entered a larger sphere of our lives including communication, electrical, transportation, home, healthcare, and even governance, the role of IEEE widens to lead and make a bigger contribution in our lives. Hence, I found this to be a great opportunity, motivation and pleasure talking to Karen and finding out about her views on some of the contentious issues our semiconductor industry is facing as well as some general global issues, and what IEEE could do to facilitate and influence in getting them resolved.
    Article: Hardware Configuration Management at DAC 2012-k_bartleson.jpg
    Before I enter into the conversation, here is a brief about Karen Bartleson. She has 35 years of experience in the semiconductor industry, mostly in EDA. She started her career with Texas Instruments Design Automation group and currently is Senior Director responsible for Corporate Programs and Initiatives at Synopsys. In between she had several encounters with proprietary and industry standard tools & formats with other companies. The association with standards was so passionate that it led Karen to the position of President of IEEE Standards Association for the past 2 years. She also chaired IEEE Internet Initiative and currently is a member of IEEE Global Public Policy.

    Seeing Karen’s profile in IEEE rightly pointing towards some of the key areas in our modern age, I was especially interested in talking to her, particularly about IEEE’s initiatives in IoT, Patent policy, policies on global issues etc. Here is the conversation –

    Q: Karen, you have been IEEE-SA president and spearheaded several standards. In today’s internet age, the industry needs to converge on some standards for IoT (Internet of Things) verticals as well as horizontals. Currently market forces are driving that effort. How do you think, IEEE can catalyze the effort for an early convergence on IoT standards?

    A: It’s typical that in an emerging market, standards are fragmented and numerous. A good example is from our own EDA industry. As techniques and tools for low-power design were developed, each had a different way of expressing low-power design intent. Designers created in-house solutions and EDA vendors created tool-specific ones. As the market progressed, designers realized the inefficiency and error-prone nature of dealing with multiple ways of representing low-power design intent. A group of leading design companies made the conscious decision to work together and demand that EDA vendors cooperate to produce a single standard. Thus, IEEE Standard 1801, the Unified Power Format (UPF), was created.

    The Internet of Things is an emerging market too, so it’s no surprise to see a myriad of standards proposals coming forward. As a leader in market-driven standards, the IEEE can provide its proven and well-respected platform for standards development to the IoT developers. Actually, this is already happening. As part of the IEEE’s IoT community, the IEEE Standards Association has been developing new standards for IoT as well as leveraging its famous standards like 802.11 (Wi-Fi). There are continuing workshops and other activities from the IEEE-SA to raise awareness of existing standards and to unify the market around a common platform for IoT standards development. We are maintaining a dedicated website for IoT related projects, standards, studies, and so on.

    Q: Often we see disputes in royalty rates on standards’ patents, and we have seen several court cases around that. In fact, recently a US court asked for IEEE recommendation on royalty payments for standard-essential patents. Do you think IEEE can pro-actively come up with detailed guidelines for royalty payments in case of patents for different types of standards? Can these be followed to stop undue expenses of money, time and resources in long running patent lawsuits?

    A: This is definitely a serious issue, not only in the US. The European Commission has been struggling with it too. There are infamous cases in which there have been three or more orders of magnitude difference in amounts that patent licensors and licensees believe are “reasonable”.

    The IEEE worked hard for the past couple of years to update its standards patent policy, in light of the request you mentioned as well as others. In February of 2015, I’m proud to say that the IEEE approved updates to its patent policy.

    The updates bring greater clarity in four areas: i) the meaning of “reasonable” rate, ii) non-discrimination through the definition of “Compliant Implementation”, iii) availability of Prohibitive Orders, iv) on permissible demands for reciprocal license. The IEEE patent policy protects both patent holders and implementers by clearly describing participants’ obligations and providing assurance to implementers. While the policy is voluntary – it is not a law – for participants in IEEE standards development, it does offer a solid framework in which to work. The policy does not say anything in dollar terms as that is not a prerogative of IEEE. It recommends the royalty to be based on the ‘smallest sellable unit’. I am hopeful that the updated policy will improve the standard-essential patent landscape all over the world.

    Q: On the Internet Initiative in general, what can IEEE do to maintain and promote Net Neutrality across the world, and in what ways?

    A: The IEEE Internet Initiative has the goal to bring the voice of technologists to the policy makers in the areas of cyber-security, cyber-privacy, and Internet governance. Net Neutrality falls under the Internet governance area. Net Neutrality is, of course, a controversial contemporary issue. The IEEE has not given position statements and has not taken sides. Instead, through the IEEE Internet Initiative, the conversation about Net Neutrality can be brought to forums such as ETAP - Experts in Technology and Policy which has been held in San Jose, CA and Tel Aviv, Israel. In addition, IEEE publications such as the award-winning Spectrum magazine have been publishing articles about Net Neutrality to educate technologists and policy makers. Also, cyber-security and cyber-privacy are taking the front and center of the initiative. As well as preventing Balkanization of the Internet, the “Splinternet”.

    Q: On a global scale, IEEE is definitely a global, professional organization. However, a more involved participation from developing and underdeveloped world is lacking. Can we see more low-fee IEEE conferences, lectures, resource sharing, other ways of motivation, etc. in these regions? How would you do that?

    A: Yes, over 50% of IEEE members are outside of the US and participation from developing and underdeveloped regions will benefit everyone. For traditional activities such as conferences, funding is required of course. IEEE does fund humanitarian activities and supports local sections. As with everything, there is never enough money to do all the things everyone wants. Yet, one of the ways to bring more local conferences to these areas would be for industry to sponsor them. When industry realizes an emerging economy, it often brings resources to bear. IEEE would like to get closer to industry, which we have done successfully in standards. Governments, too, can provide funding with the right incentives. As IEEE becomes more involved in global public policy, it can show governments how supporting IEEE activities can help build a thriving academic climate and a technically capable workforce.

    As for resource sharing and other motivation, IEEE’s new platform called Collabratec will enable IEEE members everywhere to build online communities. These communities can enable all kinds of things such as mentoring, technical discussions, and education. Certainly this means that developing and underdeveloped areas need Internet access and connected devices. Both Google and Facebook are working on this, and surely these companies are full of IEEE members.

    But I want to mention the young professionals of IEEE. I have met many of them at regional meetings this year and through Facebook – really! They are full of enthusiasm and positive attitudes about the future. The young professionals in developing and underdeveloped regions are engaging and helping each other to shape the future of the IEEE. As they continue their paths with the IEEE, they will surely bring greater participation all over the world.

    Q: Any thoughts on rural education and introduction of technologies to underdeveloped world?

    A: Education is the most important thing a human being needs after air, food, water, clothing, and shelter. Education can lead to introducing new technologies to underdeveloped parts of the world. These can dramatically improve the quality of life. This is why I believe in the IEEE’s mission to foster technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity – in short, advancing technology for humanity.

    The most obvious, but not necessarily the easiest, way to bring education and new technologies to the underdeveloped world is via the Internet. The challenges include infrastructure development and readily available electronic communication devices. The IEEE’s work in so many areas of technology that can help build up the infrastructure and bring cost-effective devices to market can certainly improve the lives of many.

    Q: Nowadays, there is semiconductor technology infusion in most medical equipments, healthcare instruments etc. Do you think IEEE can join with global healthcare organizations such as WHO (World Health Organization) to prevent serious ailments like Cancer, AIDS etc.? So far, the effort by health organizations has been mostly towards creating awareness about these.

    A: Wow. If the IEEE could prevent disease, that would be incredible. The IEEE members contribute to the advancement of technology for humanity which includes electronic devices, power grids, computers, communication systems, standards, and a wide variety of technologies that are used by researchers for healthcare and disease prevention. The IEEE holds conferences on relevant topics that include speakers and participants from WHO. The WHO also holds conferences that include IEEE experts and they leverage standards from IEEE. For example, WHO provides a list of medical devices for Ebola care and some of the devices conform to IEEE standards. As for a deeper partnership with WHO, that is entirely doable given that a program could be determined to leverage each other’s strengths and be mutually beneficial.

    Q: Coming to increasing value to members of IEEE, what are the initiatives you are taking, particularly towards creating a platform for jobs for students and career advancement for professionals?

    A: The IEEE already has platforms for career development and jobs, both for students and professionals. They include things like a resume builder, job listings, and continuing education. I think this needs to be publicized more which can increase their effectiveness. The Collabratec platform also promises to enhance IEEE’s current offerings.

    Q: How do you see growing importance of social media? Today, it is seen as an alternative for knowledge development, finding answers to any of your needs, sharing technology, and so on.

    A: Social media is a part of everyday life for a significant percentage of the world’s population. Today’s estimate is that over 3 billion people use the Internet – that’s almost half the world. Using the Internet to communicate with people everywhere, nicknamed as social media, has become as common as the telephone. So it definitely will continue to grow in importance for knowledge sharing, cultural development, and social awareness all over the globe. Generally, it is felt that the younger generations rely more on social media than the older ones. If that is true, then I am a member of the younger generation.

    Q: Social media has proliferated across the world including developing countries. How can IEEE leverage that for sharing knowledge and technology with a larger section of society (beyond its members) the world over?

    A: IEEE can leverage social media in many ways. The IEEE Facebook page has 1.3million followers and the IEEE Communications Society has 1million. These and other IEEE pages are quite active, sometimes with 1000 shares of a post. They are not closed to only IEEE members, so society as whole is able to access them. For those who prefer LinkedIn, the IEEE main page has 74,000 followers and is also open for anyone to view. There are a variety of LinkedIn groups available for all kinds of special interests. And the new Collabratec platform will be available for non-IEEE members.

    However, I think the IEEE can use social media to post valuable content in places that are not just within the technical realm. For instance, we can participate in conversations on Reddit and we can continue working with popular media outlets to create content of interest to the general public. For instance, I contributed to a CNN article about IoT. We have a Public Visibility Committee that is exploring new ways to get the message out about the value of the engineering profession and other subjects of interest to people beyond the engineering sphere.

    Q: Okay, the last question. I can see that there is a long list of items to be done. What’s the first thing you would focus on given that you are elected as IEEE president?

    My biggest interest is in the IEEE becoming more involved in global public policy. During the past couple of years, the IEEE Board of Directors has determined its priorities and areas of focus that will position us into the future. Because the term of the IEEE President is only 1 year, I believe it’s important to focus on how to keep initiatives and programs moving forward to completion. This requires a strong partnership among the Past President, President, and President-elect. I have the utmost respect for the current President and President-elect, and I fully support their direction. One area of focus identified by the Board that I would concentrate on the most is IEEE’s public imperative. This includes having IEEE become more involved in global public policy. By uniting technologists and policy makers, I think we can significantly and positively change the world.

    This was a greatly inspiring discussion with Karen. My one hour long conversation with her tells me about her great energy, motivation and enthusiasm to change things for betterment of lives around the world. I was happy to learn that she was directly involved in framing the patent policy in Feb this year. I found her to be well informed about the demography in different parts of the world. She really belongs to the younger generation. I hope she comes up with flying colors and does wonders in the short span of one year, if elected President of IEEE.

    By the way, the balloting for IEEE President’s election starts on 17th August 2015. Visit the IEEE Election Page for more details.

    Also review some of the IEEE pages on technical topics discussed in this article:
    IEEE-SA IoT website - http://standards.ieee.org/innovate/iot/
    IEEE ETAP Forum on Internet Governance, Cybersecurity and Privacy -http://etap.ieee.org/
    IEEE professional networking platform, Collabratec - https://ieee-collabratec.ieee.org/
    The CNN article on IoT with statements by Karen


    Pawan Kumar Fangaria
    Founder & President at www.fangarias.com