Momentous Achievement in the History of Humankind
Patent Awarded for the First Integrated Circuit
Do you currently use anything electronic? Integrated circuits are used in virtually all electronic equipment today and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the low cost of producing integrated circuits.
Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby both had similar ideas on how to accomplish this. Kilby used germanium while Noyce used Silicon. There was a long dispute about who was the rightful inventor. Today, we have seen the silicon version prevail.
The impact of this tiny chip has been far-reaching. The chip virtually created the modern computer industry, transforming yesterday’s room-size machines into today’s array of mainframes, minicomputers and personal computers.
It was a relatively simple device that Jack Kilby showed to a handful of co-workers gathered in TI’s (Texas Instrument) semiconductor lab more than 40 years ago—only a transistor and other components on a slice of germanium. Little did this group of onlookers know, but Kilby’s invention, 7/16-by-1/16-inches in size and called an integrated circuit, was about to revolutionize the electronics industry.
For almost 50 years after the turn of the 20th century, the electronics industry had been dominated by vacuum tube technology. But vacuum tubes had inherent limitations. They were fragile, bulky, unreliable, power hungry, and produced considerable heat.
It wasn’t until 1947, with the invention of the transistor by Bell Telephone Laboratories, that the vacuum tube problem was solved. But the problem was that these components still had to be interconnected to form electronic circuits, and hand-soldering thousands of components to thousands of bits of wire was expensive and time-consuming. It was also unreliable; every soldered joint was a potential source of trouble.
TI was working on the Micro-Module program when Kilby joined the company in 1958. Meanwhile up in northern California, a recently formed company Fairchild Semiconductor under the leadership of Robert Noyce began making silicon transistors, which at the time had to be wired together by hand after they were produced.
Fairchild Semiconductor filed a patent for a semiconductor integrated circuit based on the planar process on July 30, 1959, touching off a decade-long legal battle between Fairchild and Texas Instruments, which previously had filed a similar patent based on Kilby’s technology. Eventually, the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals upheld Noyce’s claims on interconnection techniques but gave Kilby and Texas Instruments credit for building the first working integrated circuit.
Without knowing each other, through two independent paths, both invented, almost at the same time, the Integrated Circuit (IC). The invention of Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, also known as “the chip”, has been recognized as one of the most important innovations and significant achievements in the history of humankind.