Enlightenment of “Virtual National Laboratory”: Playing the role of market players and driving front-end technological innovation with demand

At present, the United States continues to contain and suppress my country in the high-tech field, and the external environment for my country’s innovation-driven development strategy is deteriorating day by day.

my country should continue to innovate the organizational management system and mechanism, be guided by national goals and strategic needs, aim at the frontiers of international science and technology, accelerate the construction of a scientific research system with national laboratories as the core, coordinate the integration and optimization of various high-quality resources, and form a collaborative innovation pattern.

This paper takes the Virtual National Laboratory (VNL) in the United States as the research object, and systematically analyzes its multi-subject, interdisciplinary, and full-link collaborative innovation operation mechanism formed in major scientific research projects. Provide decision-making reference for the construction of innovative systems and the construction of an operating mechanism for efficient allocation of multiple types of resources.

At present, China’s innovation system and capacity building are in a critical stage of overall leap from large to strong, from scattered to concentrated, and from quantitative to qualitative . Contradictions and problems such as less original innovation and low resource allocation efficiency .

Large-scale scientific research institutions represented by national laboratories , as strategic scientific and technological innovation forces, will face new challenges in terms of precision, flexibility and rapid response capabilities under the macro situation of major development, major changes, and major adjustments.

Developed countries such as the United States started early in the construction of large-scale scientific research institutions and accumulated relatively mature theoretical methods and practical experience.

Studying the operation and management mode of large-scale scientific research institutions in the United States, especially the ” virtual national laboratory ” established at the end of the last century, has important reference significance for China to integrate resources and form a three-dimensional national strategic scientific and technological force .

VNL development traceability

In the mid-to-late 1990s, the focus of the US national strategic needs shifted , and semiconductor companies faced strong competition challenges from Japanese and European companies in terms of technical strength and market share. Many national laboratories were seriously hindered by the lack of funds for scientific research progress.

In order to deal with this unfavorable situation, led by Intel, a leading semiconductor company in the United States, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and other government departments coordinate and provide policy support, relying on the Sandia National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Wumo National Laboratory, established a collaborative innovation body VNL .

VNL was formed to accelerate the development of EUV technology and advance the development of next-generation chip manufacturing tools .

The three parties participating in the joint R&D cooperation have clear development goals in the cooperation: the demands of the Ministry of Energy are intellectual property rights and technologies closely related to national security; the demands of national laboratories are to obtain large and stable financial support; the demands of semiconductor companies It is the key technology to obtain cost reduction and efficiency increase.

With the continuous advancement of cooperation, the main body of collaborative innovation has gradually expanded to other semiconductor companies and other supplier companies in the industry chain.

By the end of the project, a total of about 66 companies and units have participated in collaborative innovation, forming a full-link coverage in the field of lithography from basic research and development – raw material supply – industrial design – manufacturing and production – integrated assembly – market application.

In the EUV technology research and development cooperation, VNL has newly developed 15 types of controllers, control systems and 430 key components, resulting in a total of 146 patents and fruitful intellectual property rights.

In 2003, VNL successfully delivered the extreme ultraviolet lithography prototype ETS to EUV LLC, marking the successful conclusion of the cooperation between VNL and establishing the status of EUV technology as the mainstream technology of global lithography.

VNL Collaborative Innovation Mechanism

VNL focuses on key core technologies, makes full use of existing resources, and quickly forms a specialized research team, which is the core innovation of the operating mechanism .

organizational structure

VNL forms a number of groups to complete specific tasks to form a horizontal management system .

In terms of management functions , VNL has three management positions: CEO, CTO and COO, which are held by managers from three national laboratories.

At the same time, staff from 3 national laboratories are selected to form a scientific research team , and full-time scientific research personnel are dynamically adjusted every year during the project.

The amount of funding for each national laboratory is determined in advance by DOE in consultation with EUV LLC.

The most critical part of the collaborative innovation organization system is the joint R&D working group composed of VNL researchers and EUV LLC corporate engineers.

Collaborative Innovation Operation Mechanism

VNL integrates the strengths of upstream and downstream enterprises in the semiconductor industry chain, forming a situation of ” each doing what he can and each taking what he needs”.

Clear division of powers and responsibilities: the initiation of cooperative projects and the establishment of the relationship between the three parties

Among the three cooperation entities, the enterprise is the demander and project initiator of the project, the national laboratory is the demand receiver and the R&D executor, and the Ministry of Energy is the policy provider and the coordinator of scientific research resources.

VNL and EUV LLC cooperate under the framework of the DOE CRADA agreement : combine the resources of 3 national laboratories with a single CRADA contract; allow enterprises to use national laboratory research and development resources, and the cooperation is fully funded by enterprises ; give EUV LLC knowledge Exclusive ownership of property rights and patents , DOE reserves the right to use patents royalty-free only in the development of defense applications.

Reasonable distribution of benefits: refine intellectual property transaction methods, drive and revitalize industrial chain resources

VNL provides intellectual property and technology patents to EUV LLC, and EUV LLC then “transfers preferentially” to component companies and chip equipment manufacturers in the industry chain .

At the same time, EUV LLC member companies have obtained the right of first refusal to purchase lithography tools and components for testing and production from chip equipment manufacturers.

Chip equipment manufacturers and parts companies can sell related machines and tools to companies that are not members of EUV LLC after all member companies ‘ needs for lithography machines and parts have been met.

Efficient transformation of achievements: linking basic scientific research and market production

The collaboration between VNL and industry chain partners is the key to the efficient transformation of results.

VNL organically connects basic R&D with manufacturing . Production line engineers, VNL project managers and scientific researchers have fine-tuned division of labor and collaboration , focusing on R&D work with actual production needs and high application value, so that EUV R&D can go from overall to details and from basic scientific research. A closed loop of information is established from production to manufacturing.

Features of VNL Collaborative Innovation Mechanism

The demand communication model of traditional national laboratories is guided by the will of the state, and the R&D requirements are allocated to the subordinate national laboratories in the form of R&D contracts by the national departments, and then the national laboratories complete technological innovation, and then transform and expand to the civilian market. VNL’s projects follow the opposite path .

The organic combination of government coordination and market operation

VNL and EUV LLC have the role of “coordinator” by the Department of Energy and Intel , respectively.

The “coordinator” provides the legitimacy and rationality of the endorsement and basis for the loose organization to carry out scientific research cooperation; conducts overall management and regulation from the perspective of higher-level management, gives full play to the advantages and strengths of various cooperative units, and reasonably distributes the overall coordination across departments, To maximize the avoidance of problems such as unbalanced distribution of scientific research tasks and unreasonable distribution of funds; the intervention of government departments can provide important policy support and resource conditions for multi-party cooperation.

Extensive absorption of various entities for collaborative innovation

In terms of the breadth of cooperation , all aspects of the industrial chain in the lithography field are joined by enterprises, and they are located in different positions in the industrial chain and have different divisions of labor.

In terms of the depth of cooperation , the interests of various participating entities are deeply bound , and innovation resources are integrated and shared. VNL’s research and development results and EUV LLC’s manufacturing and engineering technologies are mutual information support . The VNL joint working group mechanism is deeply mobilized and integrated from the industry chain. link information resources.

Effectively protect the intellectual property rights of innovation achievements

The cooperation also includes semiconductor companies and industry associations in Europe and Japan. How to protect the intellectual property rights of innovation achievements such as core patents of domestic innovation entities has become a key link that needs to be considered in collaborative innovation management.

The protection of patents by VNL and EUV LLC follows the classification management method , including: the companies participating in the EUV LLC management committee must be American companies , driving local chip equipment manufacturers to participate in R&D cooperation as much as possible, and issuing to various companies. Licensing and licensing , and final manufacturing must be done within the United States .

Flexible and efficient information communication mechanism

VNL’s modern electronic information system integrates information and data storage, achievement sharing, and R&D exchange, so as to ensure the synchronization of information between front-line engineering personnel and national laboratory researchers.

For example, on the basis of information system support, different methods and methods are adopted for communication at all levels: VNL project managers and enterprise representatives appointed by EUV LLC conduct weekly project status synchronization meetings ; and quarterly seminars ; establish a mechanism for technical exchanges and seminars with international frontiers .


Diversified traction: Explore the innovative mechanism of compound scientific research projects driven by market demand and coordinated by the government

Unblock and improve the channels for the science and technology industry or leading technology companies to apply to the national scientific research authority, accurately locate the scientific research direction for the development of the market economy, give full play to the role of market players , and force front-end technological innovation through market demand .

Under the premise of sufficient resources, leading enterprises in the industry have common and urgent needs for scientific research projects that can not be achieved only by their own strength, and can be considered for inclusion in the scope of support from national laboratories. It needs to be clear that the national laboratory supports the common scientific research problems of a certain industry.

With the support and overall planning of relevant state departments, we will accurately locate relevant industries and fields, and carry out systematic research and development work in combination with key core technologies urgently needed for market development.

Combining the resources of the enterprise and its industrial chain with the R&D resources of the national laboratory, comprehensively opening up the flow of funds, information and talents , taking into account the double improvement of scientific research strength and market efficiency, and promoting the rapid transformation and application of the scientific research results of the national laboratory to the civilian market .

Linking the previous and the next: Bringing into play the linking role of national laboratories, leveraging industrial strength to correct the direction of basic scientific research and provide resources

“Continuing” : The collaborative innovation between the new era and market forces should start from a series of in-depth “capillary” cooperation mechanisms of “national mission-strategic goals-policy support-resource planning-results sharing-power and responsibility division-information sharing”, so that Various resources are integrated on the national laboratory platform, and efforts are concentrated on key and difficult scientific research projects.

“Enlightenment” : Use the R&D and technological achievements of the national laboratory to drive the development of the national economy , open up the channel for the transformation of science and technology to the civilian field, so that market participants can have “feasible” actual benefits, which are then transformed into industrial/ Market resources are the driving force for long-term participation in joint scientific research.

The market verification and improvement iterative links provided by the industry/market can greatly shorten the transformation path from the basic research and development of the national laboratory to the actual production process. Therefore, the huge industrial chain resources are leveraged to provide back-end production verification, which can be used as a transformation application of technological achievements The rapid “trial and error” platform of the company accelerates the release of high- quality innovative achievements with high application value, and timely corrects the deviation of scientific research projects that do not have the ability to transform and apply results.

Flexible organization: Establish a multi-subject, interdisciplinary research demand response mechanism

Under the new normal, flexible planning and coordination of advantageous scientific research resources will become the key.

In addition to the establishment of new physical institutions, the formation of cross-agency “virtual” organizations can more quickly respond to sudden changes and strategic scientific and technological problems urgently needed by the country, and integrate resources to form a highly flexible and three-dimensional strategic scientific and technological force.

The formation of this kind of power requires, on the one hand, the national laboratory system to always maintain a window for communication and cooperation with academia/industry/market/enterprise, and to form effective supervision ; Promote innovation governance by disciplines and levels, and create a good external environment for the development of a new type of scientific research organization that integrates multiple disciplines.

About the author: Fang Chao, Tsinghua University High-tech Laboratory, associate professor, research direction is high-tech strategy and science and technology policy.

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