Semiconductor (Memory Chips) Patents

Semiconductor patents, those that protect the invention of new computer memory chips, are among the most commonly granted modern patents. Memory chips represent more than 53,000 granted patents and more than 42,600 applications divided into more than 31,200 separate patent families. The United States, Taiwan, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have filed the most semiconductor patents: 43,432 in the United States, 5,961 from Taiwan, and 4,799 from WIPO. Most of these patents are for semiconductor devices, static stores, electric digital data processing, and electric solid state devices. Macronix, Micron Technology, and Advanced Micro Devices are the companies that have filed the most patents in these areas.

In the semiconductor industry, about 1 patent is granted for every 0.804 applications (a 1.245 grant to application ratio). The global industry has gone through radical changes in recent years, including large-scale consolidation spurred by technological advancement and economic pressures. However, it's clear that patents for semiconductors and related technologies will continue to be profitable. Some businesses will sell off patents for assets that are no longer relevant to their business after restructuring or consolidation.

Valuable Semiconductor Patents

Some of the most important and valuable patents in the semiconductor industry include:

  • A patent that reduces the effects of erase disturbance in a memory chip or device
  • A system that starts up a device with programmable array logic that allows addresses and other data to be sent in a specific sequence
  • Bit line structures for microelectronic devices and fabricating methods for these devices
  • A system for syncing memory operations among memory components housed in several different places
  • A method for creating a small contact area between electrodes

The Semiconductor Industry Patent Scorecard

In 2016, the top 10 semiconductor companies were as follows: Intel, Micron, Broadcom, IBM, Texas Instruments, Samsung, Hitachi, Toshiba, Semiconductor Energy Lab, and AMD. These companies were evaluated on the strength of their science, their research intensity, and the length of innovation cycle time. While Intel outranks Micron when it comes to innovation cycle and performance in the stock market, Micron ranks higher than Intel in the area of research intensity.

Tying innovation to patent activity is not always the best approach. This means that the companies who own the most patents are not necessarily the most innovative, and the most creative companies don't necessarily have the best stock market performance. For example, while Intel has long been considered the industry leader in innovation, their stock price has fallen by 1.3 percent since last year, while Micron's stock has fallen by almost 23 percent in the same period. Companies that rank lower on the scorecard tend to show stellar stock performance over the same time period.

Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA)

This association supports the protection of intellectual property through patents along with other innovation-spurring policies. They feel that the industry's success — and American success in the industry — requires a strong patent system along with diligent protection of trade secrets. To this end, the SIA has developed an agenda for anti-counterfeiting. Members of the SIA spend about 20 percent of their revenue on research and development, much of which results in patent-protected inventions. Several members are annually among the top U.S. patent awardees, including three of the top five recipients in 2015 and 48 percent of the total patents granted to the top 15 companies that same year.

For these reasons, SIA members are concerned about abusive litigation that raises the costs of legitimate patent litigation. This harms innovation by requiring research funds to be used for litigation. Current procedures to stop abusive patent litigation are not effective. The SIA encourages the courts to take steps to modify these procedures to stop abusive patent litigation, and believes that Congress should also take action on this issue. The organization is also supportive of new laws that award attorney fees and costs to patent owners who prevail in legal challenges, such as a modification of an existing law by which these costs are only awarded in exceptional cases. They also encourage the courts to impose new requirements and mechanisms to prevent abusive patent litigation, such as streamlining these cases. 

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