The UK Government has recently announced a 10-year strategy and £1billion investment plan in the semiconductor industry. Reaction has been mixed: some have said that it’s a “starting gun on a bright future” while others say that it’s simply not enough. We talked to semiconductor experts Dr Ian Lambert and Dr Elliott Davies of Wynne-Jones IP to find out what semiconductors are and to get their thoughts on the announcement.
What are semiconductors?
Semiconductors are materials which have an electrical conductivity between that of conductors and insulators, and are essential to most electronic circuits. They can be found across a wide range of technologies: inside your smart phone, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing… the list goes on. “Put simply, semiconductors are the future” Ian said, highlighting that the UK is incredibly active in this area of technology and has a huge opportunity in what is a “trillion -dollar industry”.
Semiconductors are most commonly made from silicon, but Elliott tells me that we’re coming to the end of the capability in using silicon alone and that technology is now moving toward the use of compound semiconductors that are made up of two or more elements. I asked Elliott if compound semiconductors were better than their predecessor - “Yes, basically, compound semiconductors are equivalent to silicon on steroids” Elliott explained to me.
It’s clear that there’s a mass market and application of use for both semiconductors and compound semiconductors. You may remember the chip shortage that caused chaos in the automotive industry during 2022 – this was due to a lack of semiconductor materials. A shortage of these components could potentially bring the UK to a grinding halt. Our technologies are becoming increasingly dependent on semiconductors and as we move toward a more robotic, autonomous, cyber-based world there is no indication that demand will slow at any point in the foreseeable future. In fact, demand is only set to increase and so it is important that the UK becomes more independent in manufacturing and developing semiconductor materials and chips.
What do you think about the investment that has been announced?
As patent attorneys, both Ian and Elliott thought this was a question that would be best answered by their clients, but from their perspective they think it’s an industry that’s there for the taking; “I think it’s a question of how big our aspirations are” commented Ian; “Is it enough? I don’t know, but what I do know is that semiconductors are really important and that we’re [UK businesses] really good at them.”
Both Ian and Elliott have worked for clients in the semiconductor industry for many years, they have witnessed the cutting-edge development, evolution and innovation in this technology that UK based companies are capable of. They both work with SPTS which make the equipment for processing semiconductors, and the Compound Semiconductor Centre in South Wales, which is the first of its kind in the world.
The opportunity to drive forward in innovation and become a world leader in semiconductors is there, but is the investment enough to leapfrog us forward? We’ll have to wait and see.
Dr Ian Lambert is a patent attorney and director at Wynne-Jones IP with nearly 30 years’ experience. He has a PhD in Chemical Physics and handles a wide range of technologies that include semiconductors, compound semiconductors, chemistry, chemical physics, sensors, mass-spectrometry, laser-based inventions, nanotechnology, medical devices and medical physics, plasma etching and more.
Dr Elliott Davies is a patent attorney and partner at Wynne-Jones IP with 20 years’ experience and works out of Cardiff, South Wales. He has a PhD in Physics (Optoelectronics) and specialises in a wide range of technologies including semiconductors, compound semiconductors, telecommunications, photonics, electronics, medical devices and more.
Wynne-Jones IP has been helping businesses protect and commercialise their intellectual property for nearly 60 years and has offices in Cardiff, Malvern, Gloucester, Cheltenham, London and Telford.