A Backstage Look at the Invention of the First Integrated Circuit

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This simple invention revolutionized the electronics industry and led to the development of modern computers

Inventions are conceived to solve problems.  In the 1950’s, one of the main problems of the electronics industry was how to make electronics parts smaller.  A solution had to be found in order to move technology forward.  The vacuum tube used at that time was replaced by smaller transistors, but even those were too bulky.  So the race was on.  Who would be able to solve the problem first and how?


Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, two engineers with the very similar ideas on how to reduce electronic circuit size.  They both searched for a way to create an entire circuit made out of a single chip.  The circuit would perform several functions and contain several transistors, resistors, capacitors and connecting wires in one block called a monolithic unit.  Jack Kilby was the first of the two to create a working integrated circuit. However, Robert Noyce received the first patent for it. Why?

Jack Kilby started working on his idea for the first integrated circuit in the summer of 1958 at Texas Instruments.  Being a new hire, Kilby was working while the majority of the company was shut down for vacation.  He pondered the challenge before him.  How could he make a small circuit?  After much thought, he realized that he could create a single device with all the parts made of silicon and solder it to a circuit board.  The metal used to connect them would be on a layer on top. This would eliminate the need for individual components and manual wire connections, making the circuit smaller and allowing for an automated manufacturing process, which would lead to mass production.  He proposed this idea to his superiors, who told him to proceed.  Kilby created the first working model, which was the size of a pencil point, on September 12, 1958.  Texas Instruments filed for a patent soon after.

Robert Noyce, working at Fairchild Semiconductor in California, also imagined that an entire circuit could be made on a single chip and started to perfect his own invention.  When Noyce completed his device, Texas Instruments had already filed a patent for the integrated circuit.  He wanted to be awarded the patent first, so he sent a much more detailed patent application for what he called “unitary circuits,” hoping it wouldn’t infringe on Texas Instruments’ similar device.  Noyce’s gamble paid off with Fairchild Semiconductor receiving the first patent for the integrated circuit, while Texas Instruments’ patent application was still under examination.  A patent fight ensued between the two companies, which was settled in 1966 with both companies sharing ownership.  As for the inventors, the scientific community agreed that both Kilby and Noyce deserved credit as Kilby figured out the details of making the individual components and Noyce found a better way to connect the parts.


Neither Jack Kilby nor Robert Noyce could have imagined the enormous impact their invention would have on society.  With electronics miniaturization finally possible, computers that once occupied entire rooms could finally be made to fit on a desk.  Today, computers are mass produced and are smaller than ever before, with their most advanced circuits containing millions of components on an area the size of a fingernail.  Datalogic celebrates this simple, yet incredible invention that changed the world and utilizes it to create innovative automatic data capture solution for clients worldwide.



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