Scaling Moore’s Wall: A Public-Private Partnership in Search of a Technological Revolution
56 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2014 Last revised: 11 Jul 2015
Date Written: July 6, 2015
The decline of corporate research and vertical disintegration of supply chains in many industries has led to an innovation ecosystem increasingly reliant on linkages between institutions. These shifts present new challenges for long-term technology development. Pre-commercial public-private research consortia offer one policy response, and yet the majority of past research has focused on public-private consortia created for short-term (1- to 3-years out) technology development and technology catch-up. Based on unprecedented access to archives of the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), publically available data, 50 semi-structured interviews, and participant observation, we examine how one public-private partnership, the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI), emerged in response to arguably the most significant presumptive anomaly of our time: the end of Moore’s Law. NRI aimed to bridge the semiconductor industry’s past 40 years of unprecedented technology development — captured by Moore’s Law — with a radically new (and, as of this writing, not-yet-discovered) technology that will maintain this development indefinitely. We describe and analyze the processes by which NRI emerged. Building on a long history of collaborative university-industry research programs managed by the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC), we suggest the NRI played a coordinating role within the scientific community. Specifically, we show how NRI incorporated industry expertise in manufacturing and design to inform and shape academic research aimed at inventing a successor to CMOS technology. We conclude by questioning the extent to which the effort was appropriately suited to the nature and importance of the end-of-Moore’s Law challenge and the extent to which lessons from NRI may be generalized to a broader set of industrial contexts requiring coordination to overcome major technological discontinuities. Given that the NRI program was ongoing as of the terminal date of our study, we make no normative judgment about NRI’s success or failure in meeting its objectives.
Keywords: public-private partnerships, technology discontinuities, scientific communities, semiconductors
JEL Classification: O32, O34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation