International Business Machines and American Telephone & Telegraph are contributing hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of computer chip technology to the cooperative research group known as Sematech, it was announced Tuesday.
The two electronics giants said they hoped the contributions would pay off by strengthening U.S. chip companies and makers of semiconductor-manufacturing equipment.
The degree of industry cooperation displayed by Tuesday's announcement "would have been unheard of just a few months ago" and was made possible only by antitrust law waivers under the Cooperative Research Act of 1984, said Charles E. Sporck, Sematech's chairman.
IBM and AT&T; announced that they would turn over to Sematech all the information needed to manufacture certain state-of-the-art memory chips.
Will Be Based in Austin, Tex.
Sematech, which will be based in Austin, Tex., will build a model factory to produce the chips. Although the Sematech-produced chips will be ground up and thrown away, companies that belong to the consortium will be able to use the knowledge gained from the model factory for their own businesses.
IBM said it would contribute an advanced kind of chip for data storage known as a 4-million-bit dynamic random access memory. The chip is so new that IBM has not yet begun volume production of it.
AT&T;'s contribution will be a 64,000-bit static random access memory chip, which has less capacity but is capable of storing information even when it is not supplied with electricity.
Sematech has been criticized for focusing on these types of mass-produced memory chips, an area that U.S. suppliers have largely abandoned to the Japanese.
Will Provide Engineers
Critics have said the U.S. chip industry would be better served if Sematech concentrated on customized chips, which are made in smaller amounts and are the fastest growing segment of the market.
In addition to supplying the technology, the companies will supply up to 25 engineers each to help set up and continually improve the fabrication line for the chips.
The cost of developing the manufacturing technology that will be contributed to Sematech by the two companies amounts to "tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars," estimated Sporck, who is president and chief executive of National Semiconductor Corp.