Excerpts from SST on the Scene: Should government get involved with basic R&D?

By Debra Vogler, Senior Editor

Anytime government gets into the act of giving money to any endeavor, one can almost imagine the industry holding its collective nose with a clothespin. The money is welcome, but the intrusion that may go along with it is not. Guests of SST On the Scene at SEMICON West shared their thoughts about government getting more involved, and what challenges the industry is facing now when it accepts such help. [CLICK HERE for the full list of interviews]

Kevin Fahey, GM of the FEI Co.’s nanoelectronics fab division [CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO], sees more of a mix in the way research is funded going forward. “It used to be that governments would fund everything from five years out or more¿you’d start to see venture money in the 2-5 year range, and companies in the 0-2 year range,” Fahey said. But now, “Everything is sliding forward — the VCs want their money back in 12 months, and the companies want to be seeing results in six months.”

As a result, there is more of a need for government money for things that will be in production within a couple years, Fahey thinks. “The easiest way to see this manifested is to look worldwide,” he said. “In this country, we tend to be used to the standard funding cycles. But if we look to Europe, we’re starting to see country-wide collaborations with national centers for microscopy and materials development.” Looking to the future, he said that there’s growing acceptance that governments will be involved whether it’s wanted or not. “You see places like Singapore, where there’s wonderful success from the government having helped out,” he noted.

David Dutton, CEO of Mattson Technology [CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO], thinks government participation is most effective when it understands how it can make free-market trade happen, such as incentives in certain areas or a lower tax base. “To me, it seems that government helps facilitate business¿[when] people get in there and start competing, then the business grows, and research happens because there’s a market to be driven to,” said Dutton. He offered as one example the Saxony area of Germany, which helped enable the first 300mm production in Dresden. “Government involvement has been more to facilitate and put in the right incentives to foster business and grow, and I think that’s what governments need to do.”

Scott Kramer, director of ISMI at Sematech [CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO], cited the semiconductor industry’s influence as one reason for government involvement. “It makes good sense for governments to be involved in some aspects of the [semiconductor] industry¿it’s so large now, it’s influential, it employs a lot of people¿so governments are stakeholders, along with private companies and universities,” said Kramer. “I think the important point from our standpoint in the IC industry is that there be a level playing field without artificial boundaries and let the technology innovation go as fast as it can.” Kramer also believes that universities will continue to play a key role in innovation. “University campuses are still the ideal place for breakthrough, nonlinear thinking, and we don’t see that changing,” he said. — D.V.


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