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.

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