Polynomial identity testing and arithmetic circuit lower bounds are two central questions in algebraic complexity theory. It is an intriguing fact that these questions are actually related.

One of the authors of the present paper has recently proposed

a "real tau-conjecture" which is inspired by this connection.

The real tau-conjecture states that the number of real roots of

a sum of products of sparse univariate polynomials should be

polynomially bounded. It implies a superpolynomial lower bound on the

size of arithmetic circuits computing the permanent polynomial.

In this paper we show that the real tau-conjecture holds true for a restricted class of sums of products of sparse polynomials.

This result yields lower bounds for a restricted class of depth-4 circuits: we show that polynomial size circuits from this class cannot compute the permanent, and we also give a deterministic polynomial identity testing algorithm for the same class of circuits.