ST is committed to creating a healthy internal flow of inventions, resulting in product and system innovations that have the potential to offer people better, longer and more enjoyable lives, whilst helping to fuel ST's business growth.
ST has been pioneering digital multimedia ever since it enabled the global digital video market to emerge some 15 years ago with the advent of MPEG2. It also was among the very first companies to embark on micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) development, a key element of “sense & power” devices, such as motion, temperature or pressure sensors and miniature microphones.
Today, ST can leverage a vast array of technologies, design expertise, intellectual property, strategic partnerships and manufacturing strengths. It is one of a handful of microelectronics suppliers in the world, and the only one in Europe, that fully controls its supply chain, from MEMS, analog and non-volatile embedded memory down to state-of-the-art 28nm CMOS technology nodes. This provides security of supply for our customers and also opportunities for differentiation. For example, ST recently introduced an innovation in high-density logic, Fully Depleted Silicon On Insulator (FD-SOI), that has the potential to extend performance-power-area (PPA) in integrated circuits by as much as 30%. This innovation is being deployed at multiple technology nodes, starting from 28nm.
Jean-Marc Chery, General Manager Embedded Processing Solutions, Executive Vice President , Vice Chairman of the Strategic Committee
"Brilliant companies invent and protect their inventions, successful companies innovate and leverage their own and their partners' inventions to create products that make a difference..."
Innovation management and programs
In a microelectronics industry where, to a large extent, technology is still being “pushed” to the market as much as it is responding to customer requirements, it is the mission of marketing teams to capture ideas and turn them into new product concepts. Such proposals get screened on a regular basis by line management against business objectives and return-on-investment criteria. Projects that pass these criteria are formally endorsed by the Company and submitted to development teams for design.
We are also focused on driving manufacturing innovations to produce higher density or more complex integrated circuits whilst at the same time reducing costs and the environmental footprint of our products. We aim to remove unnecessary manufacturing steps, make changes to materials or lower the power consumption of electronic products whilst preserving their performance and features.
The management of innovation consists of the following stages:
Creating the right environment for inventors
Ideas emerge when people interact. We create and maintain a working environment where employees are motivated and rewarded for contributing ideas that may be useful to the Company.
ST believes that this environment is created both by local and company-wide incentives and reward systems that promote innovation.
The following initiatives are just some of the examples of the local innovation activities recently undertaken by our sites:
The Innovation Cup is a contest to use ideas generated by students to launch an industrial concept that is then developed into new innovation projects. The focus of the latest competition was on creating an innovative electronic sports product that could be applied to, or embedded in, sports equipment or sportswear. Four universities across three countries took part in the contest; 125 participants submitted 57 projects; 10 ideas were short-listed and eventually two winners of equal merit were selected.
The ST Annual Recognition (STAR) award recognizes and celebrates the best accomplishments of ST people in 6 categories, several of them emphasizing creativity and innovation. This annual award directly involves hundreds of employees and is sponsored by the CEO.
Patent recognition award – ST files between 500 and 700 original patent applications each year from over 1,100 new invention disclosures. We currently own over 16,000 pending patent applications and granted patents worldwide. Almost all of our worldwide inventions, after initially filing in the inventors home country, are also filed in the United States to support our active patent licensing program. As part of this program, each year, we review the US patents on worldwide inventions that were granted to ST the previous year in order to determine the best patents for licensing.
Managing the development phase
ST’s so-called “maturity” system has been in place for over a decade to indicate which stage a product is at in its life cycle and how fully deployed it is across all business entities. The system is intentionally wide in scope to include all technology developments of any nature e.g. hardware/silicon, software, IP blocks and manufacturing technology. The measure of product “maturity” is associated with the various steps of the process, ensuring a common point of reference across the entire Company, and also with partners/suppliers who adopt this system. Rules have been defined for key maturity levels with a stringent sign-off at every stage. The Corporate Quality Excellence team conducts regular audits to assess alignment with this maturity system.
At a corporate level, ST measures the costs of product development at any stage of maturity through an IFRS1 -compliant reporting system that tracks the investments made by the Company in such development. Together with research and technology development activities, ST devotes around 20% of its net revenues to aggregate R&D expenses. In an industry where the speed of bringing new technology to market is critical, it is important that ST maintains momentum.
ST was one of the first in its industry to recognize the need for partnerships. From the beginning, ST established a worldwide network of strategic alliances with key customers, technology development with other semiconductor manufacturers and development alliances with major equipment and CAD2 suppliers. These industrial partnerships are complemented by a wide range of research programs conducted with leading universities and research institutes around the world. In addition to these partnerships, ST plays a leading role in Europe’s advanced technology research programs such as CATRENE (Cluster for Application and Technology Research in Europe on Nano-electronics), a successor to MEDEA+, and industry initiatives such as ENIAC (European Nano-electronics Initiative Advisory Council).
For more information on ST’s involvement with industry organizations, click here
The “ST New Ventures
” initiative is a new instrument that aims to further strengthen the network of ST technology partners at an early stage in their business development. It is a corporate fund that invests in technology, product and service start-up companies serving emerging markets where semiconductors play a key enabling role.
Make vs Buy
While the network of partners described above provides a powerful backbone for core technology research and advanced development, a more systematic and industrial approach is necessary at later stages in the development cycle.
For this reason, ST has set-up a dedicated technology sourcing organization, which liaises with business entities and potential technology suppliers worldwide. Anticipating short to mid-term technology requirements and IP blocks from product roadmaps, the team coordinates Company-wide “Make vs Buy” decisions. A yearly event is organized in December which brings together ST’s main technology suppliers and partners with hundreds of ST engineers from multiple sites and countries, with the aim of exposing our engineers to state-of-the art externally-developed technology, whilst providing our partners with direct visibility of ST’s requirements.
Certain internally-developed technologies may carry value well in excess of what ST is able to extract and generate from product revenues alone. In addition, partnerships tend to be tighter and more efficient if they include a component of technology out-licensing from ST. This is because the mid to long term rewards of co-operation for partners may be better balanced and objectives better aligned.
Leveraging Free & Open Source Software (FOSS)
ST is embracing the FOSS business model wherever applicable, mainly on open Linux or Android platforms. These are suitable for running application software downloaded by the end user, or proposed by operators. They create the need for a substantial amount of software components to be developed, customized or ported.
Innovation objectives and results
- By 2015, increase R&D spending incurred via partnerships or external IP sourcing from 18% (2012 baseline) to 25%.
1 IFRS = International Financial Reporting Standards
2 CAD = Computer Aided Design, collectively referring to software tools supporting chip design & verification