Commentary: Chipping in with the opposition

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The electronics industry has been caught up in a flurry of joint ventures between companies that are, in marketing terms, the fiercest of rivals.

Japanese and American chip firms are not historically on the best of terms. Yet, driven by the need to share development costs, giants from these two countries account for almost all the latest co-operative deals to develop future generations of computer chips.

It is to the credit of Siemens that it has managed to become part of such global alliances. The deal signed by the German company this week to develop 256-megabit drams with Toshiba and IBM means that Siemens will benefit from a technology programme costing at least dollars 1bn.

There are doubtless Euro-fanatics who wish Siemens had set itself up as a rock on which a European superchip partnership including Philips and SGS Thomson could be built. That was a dream once cherished by the European Commission, and millions of ecus were pumped into collaborative chip research by national governments and EC alike. The Community, it was argued, could not be allowed to become dependent on - and thus threatened by - the US and Japan.

Siemens has certainly benefited from EC-funded research. But the market-led nature of its deal with Toshiba and IBM put this partnership in a different league.

There is a strong impetus to get there first with a product and technology for which there is a perceived need. The threat from the US and Japan will not go away but by realising that there can also be benefits Siemens holds out the hope that Europe will have at least one computer chip giant for some time to come.