“Master Inventors” Driving Innovation and Differentiation at GLOBALFOUNDRIES
Elite program honors employees who are prolific inventors, mentors, and advisors
By Michael Mullaney
Shesh Mani Pandey has a clear memory of his first patent: a new method for manufacturing high-gain vertical bipolar junction transistors. The new method was perfectly compatible with CMOS process, and the resulting devices offered a significantly improved performance over those currently available.
Though it was more than 20 years ago, Pandey has never forgotten the sense of accomplishment and pride upon seeing his name on the issued patent – as well as the congratulatory emails from his managers and company leadership. Beyond this elation of realizing his technical innovation, there was also a sense of relief, he said, of having successfully navigated the long, winding, and sometimes arcane path of preparing and filing a patent.
“When I first started out, I was highly motivated to pursue patents, but I didn’t have the visibility of how to make it happen. When I got my first patent, I was so happy. It was really exciting for me, and I got a sense of, ‘Ok, I can do it,’ now that I had a better understanding of the process,” said Pandey, an engineer at GLOBALFOUNDRIES (GF) and a longtime technical leader on the company’s device team.
Pandey’s passion for invention only intensified throughout his years at Chartered Semiconductor and GF, which acquired Chartered in 2009. Today, he holds more than 45 patents across a wide spectrum of technology related to semiconductor manufacturing. In addition to his own projects, he also spends time advising and mentoring inventive colleagues who are gathering momentum on their career paths and gearing up to file for their own first patents.
For his dedication to innovation and broadening GF’s portfolio of intellectual property (IP), Pandey was one of 11 employees last year bestowed with GF’s coveted title of Master Inventor. The honor is reserved for colleagues with at least 20 issued U.S. patents and who have a demonstrated track record of technical accomplishments and IP asset creation.
“GF makes it easy for inventors to file for IP,” said Pandey, who is based at GF’s Fab 8 in Malta, New York. “As a company, we engage and encourage employees to file. We encourage senior inventors to tutor or mentor others, and help them understand the value of pursuing inventions and IP. We are aligned on this, right up to senior leadership. Innovation is truly woven into our corporate culture.”
GF Master Inventors Program
Now in its third year, GF’s Master Inventor program is a powerful platform for honoring prolific employees as well as motivating other employees who may have been thinking about submitting their inventions for patenting, said David Cain, IP Legal Director for GF, who is based at the company’s Fab 9 near Burlington, Vermont.
GF has so far recognized around 50 Master Inventors, who Cain said are “the shining stars of the company in terms of innovation … folks who have had amazing careers of inventing and patenting.” Along with inspiring and mentoring their colleagues, Master Inventors serve as advisors and are a resource for GF’s technology leaders and legal team on a range of technical, strategic, and IP topics.
There are external benefits to GF’s Master Inventor program and culture of innovation, as well. Patents and IP can serve as a yardstick – beyond revenue, design wins, and new clients – which further showcases GF’s vital role in the semiconductor industry and global supply chain, Cain said.
“New patents and IP are critical for protecting, maintaining, and growing our wide range of differentiated platforms, features, and specialized application solutions,” Cain said. “Differentiation is a huge focus here at GF, and our technologists and inventors play an oversized role in this differentiation by coming up with their great innovations and getting them into our IP pipeline so we can protect them.”
Mentorship is Key
There is no shortage of adages or quips concerning how new ideas blossom into inventions. Thomas Edison said “In working out an invention, the most important quality is persistence.” His contemporary Nicola Tesla posited, “Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born.” A generation later, Charles F. Kettering said “Inventing is a combination of brains and materials.”
Today, innovation is studied by researchers and business school students around the world, and theories abound on how to best cultivate an environment in which innovation can take root and flourish. Clearly the secret sauce of innovation has not yet been fully characterized. However, when discussing the topic with inventors of all stripes – from seasoned pros to those just starting on their IP journey – they agree that mentorship is a key ingredient.
This was certainly the case for Jack Pekarik, a leader on the GF technology solutions team and a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff, who along with Pandey was last year named a GF Master Inventor.
“Anyone can be an inventor, you just need to understand what it means,” said Pekarik, who joined GF in 2015 as part of the company’s acquisition of IBM’s microelectronics business, and today is based at Fab 9. He first started with IBM in 1985, but didn’t begin pursuing IP until several years later.
“I was a bit of a late bloomer. It was only after one of my colleagues really took me under their wing, and showed me how the process works, that my eyes opened to the possibility – and the importance – of protecting and patenting our work,” he said.
Among Pekarik’s early patents at IBM was a novel form of programmable memory, which involved overstressing an SRAM cell so that it would always power up in one of two different states. Seeing his name on the patent was a badge of pride, he said, and was a significant source of motivation to continue inventing.
Pekarik’s advice for someone who has an interest in patents is to find or form an invention group, and to be sure the group includes at least one member who has experience with the process. Within GF and other companies with a large population of talented and highly motivated technology professionals, he said, many of these groups already exist and new ones are being created all the time by like-minded colleagues.
“Maybe it’s a handful of people, meeting every week or other week, getting together to talk about and choose an area in which to invent something. To identify a problem and look for the solution. To read and discuss patent literature, and have some whiteboard time,” he said. “It was only after I found such a group, that I was able to get my head around the process.”
In Pekarik’s view, the biggest roadblock for aspiring inventors at any company has nothing to do with policy or procedure – “GF makes it easy,” he said. Instead, the primary barrier to entry is a prevailing misconception across all industries that filing for IP protection is somehow a daunting task requiring superhuman effort and resolve.
“Mentorship is a powerful way to dispel this, and to make it less of a mysterious process,” he said. “Mentorship is also a way to engage more employees who are thinking about inventing, and, ultimately, to generate more and more valuable invention disclosures for our company.”
Motivation and Success
Also named a Master Inventor last year was device integration engineer Bipul Paul, who is based at Fab 8 and is approaching his tenth year at GF. With nearly 30 issued patents of his own, and several more currently in the works, Paul is an active mentor, advisor, and collaborator. Like Pandey and Pekarik, he is a valued member of GF’s patent review board.
Paul sees invention as a natural, almost inevitable, extension of being engaged in one’s work.
“I think it’s inherent that if you do the same thing over and over, you’ll naturally start to think about whether there’s a better way of doing it. For those of us working in technology, this can be the first step on the path to an invention. You just have to think through the problem. Discuss it. Document your work. Ask for help and seek out guidance from others.”
An important difference between inventing at GF and his experience at other companies, Paul said, is the unimpeded access to engage with colleagues on different teams and in different departments across GF. This interdisciplinary cross-pollination of ideas is encouraged, and often results in unexpected and out-of-the-box solutions that would likely not have been arrived at if ideation was sequestered to the silo of a single discipline.
Many inventors and IP-minded technologists are intrinsically motivated to innovate, Paul said, but there are other motivating factors, as well. Generating patents is certainly beneficial to an individual’s career and raises one’s visibility within the company and industry. In addition, GF offers financial incentives for filing IP and having a patent, including specific incentives for first-time inventors as well as those awarded the coveted title of Master Inventor. Down the road, Paul said, a patent may also result in future royalties.
Beyond these incentives, he said, there is also a great sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing his innovations are helping GF succeed and advance in the marketplace. It’s particularly rewarding, he said, when inventions make their way into the company’s portfolio of differentiated technologies and onto the wafers GF ships to clients.
“The more IP capital the company has, the stronger and more defensible our position is in the marketplace,” Paul said. “Helping ensure GF is successful and our IP is well-protected allows me to keep doing what I like to do.”
Keep an eye out for GF’s forthcoming announcement of its newest members to this distinguished group, the 2020 cohort of Master Inventors!