Semiconductor Industry Association 2019 Agenda Strikes Familiar Chords

By John Russell

April 2, 2019

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) today issued its annual agenda – Winning the Future: A Blueprint for Sustained U.S. Leadership in Semiconductor Technology– and to a considerable extent the report’s themes are those SIA has championed for several years. SIA urges larger federal investment in semiconductor research, more efforts to expand free trade, better IP enforcement, and more aggressive STEM workforce development.

No doubt there’s a bit of “motherhood and apple pie” here but it’s undeniable the semiconductor industry is an engine of the future perhaps deserving of special attention. The SIA report says, “[S]emiconductors underpin the most exciting “must-win” technologies of the future, including artificial intelligence to power self-driving cars and other autonomous systems, quantum computing to analyze huge volumes of data and enhance digital encryption, and advanced wireless networks to seamlessly connect people at unprecedented speeds and security.”

According to SIA, the U.S. still leads the world in leading-edge semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing. U.S. semiconductor companies commanded nearly half of the $469 billion global semiconductor market in 2018. The U.S. has a positive trade balance in semiconductors with virtually all our major trading partners, including China, and provided a net surplus of $4.5 billion to the overall trade balance in 2018. China get a little extra attention from SIA, “[T]he Chinese government has announced efforts to invest well over $100 billion over the next decade to catch up to the United States in semiconductor technology…While China may not meet all its goals, the size and scale of its effort should not be ignored.”

Here are the report’s top line recommendations: “To overcome these challenges and ensure continued U.S. leadership of the global semiconductor industry, the U.S. must adopt an ambitious semiconductor competitiveness and innovation agenda [including:].

  • “Invest in research. Triple U.S. investments in semiconductor-specific research across federal scientific agencies from approximately $1.5 billion to $5 billion annually to advance new materials, designs, and architectures that will exponentially increase chip performance. Double U.S. research investments in semiconductor-related fields such as materials science, computer science, engineering, and applied mathematics across federal scientific agencies to spur leap-ahead innovations in semiconductor technology that will drive key technologies of the future, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and advanced wireless networks.
  • “Attract and develop a skilled workforce. Reform the high-skilled immigration system by eliminating counterproductive caps on green cards so qualified STEM graduates from U.S. colleges and universities, as well as STEM graduates from around the world, can work, innovate, and contribute to U.S. leadership in the semiconductor industry and boost our economy. Increase U.S. investments in STEM education by 50 percent and implement a national STEM education initiative to double the number of American STEM graduates by 2029.
  • “Ensure access to global markets and protect intellectual property. Approve and modernize free trade agreements, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, that remove market barriers, protect IP, and enable fair competition. Increase resources for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to prevent and prosecute semiconductor intellectual property theft, including the misappropriation of trade secrets.”

In announcing the 2019 report Sanjay Mehrotra, president and CEO of Micron Technology and 2019 SIA chair said, “Global technology leadership has never been more important, with so much at stake for America’s future economic growth and competitiveness. The country that leads in semiconductor innovation will also lead the next wave of technology advances, influencing every aspect of the economy and life. We call upon our leaders in Washington to enact policies that will keep us at the forefront of the must-win technologies of the future.”

While one can argue about how much federal investment is enough, the U.S. has certainly continued to invest in semiconductor and related technologies. DARPA’s $1.5 billion Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) is probably the most prominent (see HPCwire article, US Chip Initiative Aims For ‘Moore’s (Law) Inflection’). Likewise the $1.25 billion U.S. National Quantum Initiative will invest in some semiconductor-related work (see HPCwire article, U.S. National Quantum Initiative Act Signed and Delivered – What’s Next?). Even the U.S. exascale computing effort will indirectly fund some semiconductor-related research.

As noted in the report, the semiconductor industry has invested heavily in research: “Nearly one-fifth of U.S. semiconductor industry revenue is invested in R&D, amounting to approximately $36 billion in 2017, triple the amount invested 20 years ago. This is among the highest shares of any industry, and the vast majority of this research is conducted in the U.S. The industry’s investment is primarily targeted at applied research and product development, not the basic research needed for long-range, fundamental technology breakthroughs. To supplement this private-sector commitment, the U.S. needs to increase federal investments at universities, national labs, and other entities to maintain our leadership in this critical industry.”

Many observers argue the relative scarcity of technical talent is a bigger problem. SIA argues the U.S. is also falling behind global competitors in most education benchmarks. “China is producing many more bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. At the graduate level — which generates the expertise in materials science, physical chemistry, electrical engineering, and other fields of importance to the semiconductor industry — a large percentage of students in relevant fields at U.S. colleges and universities are from foreign countries. In electrical engineering and computer science graduate degree programs at U.S. colleges and universities, the NSF indicates that approximately 80 percent of students are from foreign countries, a rapidly increasing trend.

“The U.S. needs a comprehensive long-term plan to attract young students — particularly underrepresented women and minorities — to science and engineering and expose them to work in labs, advanced manufacturing, and apprenticeships.”

Link to SIA press release: https://www.semiconductors.org/semiconductor-industry-calls-for-bold-federal-policies-to-sustain-u-s-leadership-in-chip-technology-harness-transformative-technologies-of-the-future/

Link to SIA annual agenda report: https://www.semiconductors.org/winthefuture/

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