In Praise of Innovation


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In Praise of Innovation

By Jonathan Davis, president, Semiconductor Business, SEMI

It’s often been said that innovation is the lifeblood of high tech. In fact, innovation is the driving force behind economic growth, prosperity and products that improve our quality of life. Throughout the ages, breakthroughs in our understanding of science and technology coupled with the enterprising ability to commercialize new products has resulted in advancements that heighten productivity, harness information, improve communication, increase safety, protect life, and improve our well-being, not to mention – energizing entertainment.

A recent report on innovation and economic prosperity by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation says that two-thirds of the increase in per-capita GDP is attributable to innovation. The public policy “think tank” that promotes pro-innovation policies in Washington claims that innovation in tradable new products is critical for regional economic growth. It claims that innovation matters because economic transformation is constant and innovation is required to continually renew an economy.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

In other words, the fruits of innovation extend far beyond your cool new iPad or sleek new cell phone; they are essential for the very fabric of economic life that we know today. Peter Drucker, primarily noted as a management and entrepreneur guru, said in his 1985 book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship… the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.”

And our industry that owes a lot – if not everything, to the twin engines of innovation and entrepreneurship. The developments that have let to the exponential increases in computing power or 400 million-fold decrease in transistor costs are acts of amazing insight and inspiration.

The microelectronics industry and those closely related to silicon processing technology are a epicenters of innovation at the cutting edge of applied physics, chemistry, electrical engineering and materials science, to name but a few of the specialized disciplines involved in honing the extraordinarily complex manufacturing processes.

So it’s a good thing that we sing the praises of innovation and recognize the great technologists who are responsible for making it happen. The individuals that produce these marvelous breakthroughs are – by definition – bucking the trend. They have a unique ability to imagine new solutions to old problems.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison said, “When you innovate, you've got to be prepared for everyone telling you you're nuts.”

Some significant traits of innovators include dogged determination and a healthy sense of denial. It’s been said that you cannot hear people telling you "that won’t work" or "that will never be accepted” or "you can't launch until you have such and such feature. “

Once you ship, then you can begin to listen to the things that people say; until then an inner conviction often drives the creative force.

“Wild Spirits”— Agents of Change

Harvard economist and author Joseph Schumpeter argued that the innovation and technological change comes from agents he called “wild spirits.” He coined the word “Unternehmergeist,” for entrepreneur spirit. He also asserted that entrepreneurial and technical innovators are responsible for most of the economic progress we recognize. 

Our industry is replete with the “wild spirits” that work at the outer boundaries of science and engineering to research and develop the next generation of silicon processing technologies to make semiconductor and other electronic systems work better, faster and more cost efficiently. The stories of these people constitute the chronicle of our industry progress.

Spurring the Industry Forward

Think of the major breakthroughs in semiconductor manufacturing and a few names come to mind:

  • Jean Hoerni, one of the “Traitorous Eight” that left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to start Fairchild Semiconductor was a silicon transistor pioneer noted for developing the planar process.
  • Walter Benzing and Mike McNealy refined technologies to deposit thin film on silicon wafers and started a company named Applied Materials.
  • Ken Levy developed and commercialized the of automated inspection systems for the semiconductor industry.
  • Peter Rose pioneered ion implant technologies.
  • Richard Spanier’s contribution to metrology development for semiconductor process control significantly improved the critical measurements of thin-film deposition required to optimize IC manufacturing.
  • Jim Koford developed the IC industry's first logic and functional design simulators and the first downstream design tools. He helped create the technological infrastructure and tools that enabled the IC industry to move from manual design, manufacture and test to automated design, manufacture and test of IC circuits.
  • Dan Maydan, pioneered key advances in laser applications, x-ray lithography, and plasma etch technology at Bell Laboratories prior to joining Applied Materials and developing the game-changing Precision 5000.
  • Grant Willson co-invented chemically amplified resist, a key invention that has enabled leading edge lithography for the last 25 years.
  • Robert Akins, who co-founded Cymer Inc. in 1986, contributed to the field of DUV lithography.
  • Robert Patti, the chief technology officer of Tezzaron, Inc., pioneered work in the emerging technical area of 3D IC integration.

These people are just some of the people who spurred the industry forward by innovation and significant contributions to technology development. They also share the distinction of being recognized as recipients of the SEMI Award for North America. The SEMI award, which has been annually since 1979 to honor individuals and teams who have made significant technical contributions to the semiconductor industry, is our effort to celebrate and promote the critical innovation that industry requires.

October 5, 2010