NEWS RELEASE, 08/12/98
UC Berkeley gets funds to study a key law of chips
By Public Affairs
BERKELEY -- The University of California at Berkeley will receive up to $10 million a year as one of the leading universities in an ambitious semiconductor research project scheduled to be announced today.
The project -- which eventually will parcel out $60 million a year to six ``focus center'' universities -- aims to conduct the long-term research that will drive the rapid, often incredible pace of technological development.
The driving force in the semiconductor industry has been the theorem known as Moore's Law. First posited by Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore in the 1960s, Moore's Law states that the number of transistors that fit on a chip will double every 18 months. Chips run not only computers, but all sorts of devices, ranging from cars to clocks.
Moore's Law has held true so far, with Intel's latest Pentium cramming 8 million transistors on a tiny sliver of silicon. The industry is confident that it can achieve even more astounding figures, such as 100 million transistors on a chip.
To get there, however, more research is needed -- into the way chips are designed, the materials that are used to make them and the way the finished chips are tested.
``We want to be sure of the continuation of Moore's Law,'' said CraigBarrett, president and chief executive officer of Santa Clara-based Intel and the leader of the Semiconductor Industry Association's technology committee, which spearheaded the new initiative.
The final details still are being negotiated, but if all goes according to plan, UC Berkeley will run a focus center dedicated to research on chip design. Prior university research in that realm led to the establishment of the two leading companies in chip-design software, San Jose-based Cadence Design Systems and Mountain View-based Synopsys.
UC Berkeley would work as the hub, allocating funds and work to other universities including Stanford University, Carnegie-Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Los Angeles.
Project leaders also will announce today that the Georgia Institute of Technology was selected as a focus center. Four other focus centers will be announced in the future.
Funding will start at about $4.5 million annually, according to Richard Newton, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley and the other project director. Within a few years, that figure is expected to reach $10 million.
The Semiconductor Industry Association, the leading trade group in the chip industry, will pay for half of the research, with the Defense Department's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, and the chip equipment industry consortium SEMI/Sematech splitting the other half.
The agreement reveals some of the unusual nature of the chip industry. While the companies in it are fiercely competitive, they also recognize the importance of funding shared research projects.
Getting support for the initiative ``was like trying to herd a bunch of cats and get them to march in single file,'' Barrett said.
Chip companies work together on a technology road map that gets updated every year and published every two years. Each company also funds its own in-house research and development, which leads to new products.
But university research often encourages the long-term thinking that is missing from endeavors tied too closely to companies' bottom lines. Barrett, a former Stanford professor, recognized the importance of university research and also saw ``the federal government pulling back from physical-science research toward health-sciences research.''
The chip industry also funds Sematech, a Texas-based effort that researches practical manufacturing efforts, and the Semiconductor Research Corp., a North Carolina institution that supports university research. The SRC drew fire from some universities several years ago for insisting that, in exchange for research dollars, they surrender certain intellectual property rights.
``There's been a history of a cultural mismatch between the SRC and the university community over just what rights come with (corporate-funded) research,'' said Michael Odza, publisher of Technology Access, a Novato-based newsletter that covers the transfer of technology from universities to industry.
That dispute was resolved last year, according to Bill Hoskins, director
of UC Berkeley's Office of Technology Licensing. Companies get access to
the intellectual property developed with their research dollars but have
to pay royalties for other inventions to which they did not contribute funding.
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