BBC: The microchip invented by UK scientist in 1952
BBC News Online: Sci/Tech
Monday, July 26, 1999 Published at 06:28 GMT 07:28 UK
UK missed out on microchip
The microchip was invented by a UK Ministry of Defence scientist, only for
the patent to be registered seven years later in the US, the BBC has learned.
Now the UK Government is planning to set up a special agency to ensure such
money-spinning commercial ideas are not lost in the future.
Nowadays, the global microchip industry is worth billions of pounds but it
all began in the 1950s as a spin-off from World War II.
Geoffrey Dummer and his small team of researchers, based at Malvern,
Worcestershire, were given the task of improving the reliability of the
Royal Air Force's radar equipment.
Mr Dummer, now aged 90, has told BBC reporter David Gregory that in 1952 he
came up with the idea of putting an entire circuit on a block of silicon
half an inch square.
It was rudimentary but it was recognisable as an early microchip.
But Mr Dummer said MoD mandarins were unimpressed after a prototype failed
and the idea went no further.
Seven years later a United States scientist, Jack St Claire Kilby of Texas
Instruments, filed a patent for an almost identical device.
And the rest is history.
Now the UK Government is drawing up plans for a new agency that would
develop and market ideas which are thrown up by the MoD's defence research
Dera (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency) has an annual turnover of
�1bn and Under-Secretary of State for Defence, John Spellar, says: "We
spend money on military research but very often some of the discoveries
that we make are very applicable in the civilian market.
"What we've got to do is, rather than that being exploited by the
electronics industry of Japan, we want to see that being developed in the
Mr Dummer, who was awarded the MBE, says the new agency is 50 years too late.
"All these main ideas came out during the war years and had they been
commercialised in the UK we would have been in a very happy state."
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*Defence Evaluation and Research Agency
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