by Debra Vogler, Senior Technical Editor, Solid State Technology
March 21, 2008 – The interplay among chipmakers, suppliers, and governments that spurred the relatively rapid deployment of semiconductor manufacturing technology worldwide will be the catalyst for discussion at the joint Chemical Heritage Foundation-SEMI symposium (April 1-2) at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. An opening keynote by Ultratech’s chairman, president, and CEO, Arthur Zafiropoulo, and subsequent four panel sessions featuring industry luminaries, are designed to take the audience on a journey from the semiconductor industry’s beginnings to the possibilities that lie ahead in its future. It’s also expected to spur discussion on how to globalize new technologies based on what can be learned from the semiconductor experience.
While attendees of the event probably don’t need to be reminded of equipment and materials suppliers’ key role in the silicon revolution, Vicki Hadfield, president of SEMI North America, pointed out to WaferNEWS that the unique and interesting story of the industry’s rise and lessons learned can inform the current and future leaders of not only the semiconductor industry but those now diversifying into MEMS, nanoelectronics, and solar technologies. “These [new industries] will help fuel more innovation and more cross-fertilization between our industry and theirs,” she said.
Organizers of the event hope it will eventually serve as a catalyst for discussion of such critical issues as government’s role in nurturing industry and R&D that fuels innovation. Fostering basic and fundamental R&D to provide “the seed corn for the industry to innovate in the long term” through partnerships among SEMI, SIA, and other groups working in consort, is of particular importance given the move toward private-sector R&D that is application-specific, explained Hadfield. Other topics expected to be covered include export control and the continued push for the streamlining of export controls to new markets.
Griff Resor, president of Resor Associates, and a panelist for the “evolution of technologies” session, echoed the importance to review the semiconductor industry’s rise and global impact, particularly for how it could benefit related fields. “The new industries coming up need to figure out how it was that semiconductor manufacturing was able to be globalized so rapidly,” he told WaferNEWS.
Resor attributes some of the industry’s rapid spread to one shift: IC manufacturers moving away from making their own equipment, and the emergence of (and competition among) independent equipment suppliers. The independent equipment industry helped newcomers get into the business because a whole fab’s worth of equipment could be bought. Later, companies such as Applied Materials began licensing process technology. Other emerging countries or regions could learn from previous experience, Resor noted.
Another catalyst was the launch of natural monopolies such as RCA and AT&T Bell Labs. “The quid-pro-quo was that in return for being monopolies, they were regulated and the inventions belonged to the general public,” explained Resor. Just as RCA is credited for inventing the radio which spawned private stations, “it ended up that anybody in the world was allowed to license the early semiconductor technology,” he said.
Public policy issues such as a reasonable patent enforcement duration and the ability of companies to recoup their R&D costs, also play a role in addressing the challenges of rapidly spreading new technologies.
Looking ahead, Resor noted that any region that wants to participate in new industries may have to rely on attracting multinational corporations that are willing to bring along their technology. “You have to get access to the technology early on,” he noted. “Clearly, the semiconductor industry as a whole, over time, benefited from this level of competition (i.e., among the independent equipment suppliers), and might not have moved nearly as fast if all the technology had been controlled by RCA and Bell Labs.” — D.V.