Computer History MuseumSemiconductor History

1959 - Practical Monolithic Integrated Circuit Concept Patented

Robert Noyce builds on Jean Hoerni’s planar process to patent a monolithic integrated circuit structure that can be manufactured in high volume.

Challenged by patent attorney John Ralls to identify other uses for Hoerni’s planar process (1959 Milestone), Fairchild co-founder Robert Noyce conceived the idea for a monolithic integrated circuit (IC). By interconnecting diodes, transistors, resistors and capacitors diffused into the silicon with aluminum metal lines deposited on top of the protective oxide coating, one could configure complete electrical circuits on a single silicon chip. By eliminating the "flying-wire" connections, this would yield a practical method of manufacturing Jack Kilby's solid circuits. (1958 Milestone)

Noyce filed his "Semiconductor device-and-lead structure" patent in July 1959 and a team of Fairchild engineers produced the first working monolithic ICs in May 1960. (1960 Milestone) They explored various schemes to electrically isolate devices from each other within the silicon wafer. Eventually they selected a reverse-biased p-n junction method patented by Kurt Lehovec of Sprague Electric. The planar method remains the fundamental approach used to produce ICs today.

Fairchild and TI engaged in litigation over I.C. patents for many years. The courts eventually ruled in Noyce's favor but by then the companies had already settled on a cross-license agreement that included a net payment to Fairchild. Kilby and Noyce both received the National Medal of Science and today are celebrated as co-inventors of the integrated circuit. Kilby is credited with building the first working circuit with all components formed using semiconductor material; Noyce with the metal-over-oxide interconnection scheme that yields a monolithic structure. As Noyce died in 1990 he did not share the Nobel Prize with Kilby in 2000, but many believe he would have had he lived.



Contemporary Documents

Noyce, Robert N. "Semiconductor device-and-lead structure," U. S. Patent 2981877 (Filed July 30, 1959. Issued April 25, 1961).

Lehovec, Kurt. "Multiple Semiconductor Assembly" U. S. Patent 3029366 (Filed April 22, 1959. Issued April 10, 1962).

Oral Histories

Noyce, Robert. Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 1975 by Michael Wolff, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Moore, Gordon E. Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 1975 by Michael Wolff, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

More Information

Noyce, Robert. "Microelectronics," Scientific American, Vol. 237, Number 3 (September 1977) pp. 63–69.

Reid, T. R. The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984). Revised and updated edition published by Random House, 2001.

Moore, G. E., "The Role of Fairchild in Silicon Technology." Proceedings of IEEE, Vol.86 Issue, 1 (Jan 1998) pp.53-62.

Berlin, L. The Man behind the Microchip. (New York: The Oxford University Press, 2005) p.104.

Lécuyer, Christophe. Making Silicon Valley: Innovation and the Growth of High Tech 1930-1970. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006) p.157.

Saxena, Arjun N. "Monolithic Concept and the Inventions of Integrated Circuits by Kilby and Noyce" Technical Proceedings of the 2007 Nanotechnology Conference and Trade Show Vol. 3 (May 20-24, 2007) pp. 460-474.

Riordan., Michael. "The Silicon Dioxide Solution: How physicist Jean Hoerni built the bridge from the transistor to the integrated circuit" IEEE Spectrum (December 2007) pp. 44-50

Saxena, Arjun N. Invention of Integrated Circuits. (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., 2009).

Lécuyer,Christophe and Brock, David C. Makers of the Microchip: A Documentary History of Fairchild Semiconductor The MIT Press (September 30, 2010)