Discovery of a new class of photoresists gives rise to successful spinout Inpria, acquired by JSR in the largest-ever sale of an Oregon-grown materials company
Since the 1970s, progress in the semiconductor industry has closely followed Moore’s Law by making transistors smaller and increasing their number in an integrated circuit. However, researchers have for years predicted that this progress would eventually hit a brick wall due to advances in the photoactive inks used to print circuit boards, called photoresists, not keeping pace with improvements in photolithography tools.
Then, around 2005, Oregon State University researchers Doug Keszler, distinguished professor of chemistry and John Wager, emeritus professor of electrical and computer engineering, in partnership with Hewlett Packard researchers, created inks that transformed the performance of printed oxide and transparent electronics. These new inks produced, for the first time, thin films with atomically flat surfaces. Keszler hypothesized a new class of very high-resolution photoresists may emerge if this surface smoothness could be retained in a patterned line edge.
Keszler's graduate student Jason Stowers confirmed this hypothesis using electron-beam lithography. Oregon State helped to build a robust patent portfolio around the ensuing discoveries and inventions. Keszler subsequently met Andrew Grenville, associate director of lithography at Sematech, and together they co-founded Inpria Corp. to commercialize the technology. From the beginning, Grenville was the company's CEO. It was an audacious undertaking, as the semiconductor industry typically relies on its established supply-chain partners to make critical technology advances. A product introduction based on university research, especially one so central to the industry, is a rare event.
In time, the newly formed Inpria lined up the leading chip companies — Intel, Samsung, TSMC, JSR, ASML, and Applied Material — as strategic investors.
The Oregon Venture Fund (then known as the Oregon Angel Fund) also joined the syndicate, lending decades of valuable semiconductor industry experience from its members.
With investment secured, Inpria made a strategic decision to remain in Corvallis. Through a critical partnership with Brian Wall, associate vice president for research, innovation, and economic impact, and the Oregon State University Advantage Program, the company secured up-to-date lab space in Gilbert Hall at the university and manufacturing facilities in the Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Institute on the HP campus.
The effort to transition a basic-research finding to high-volume manufacturing paid off in 2021 with the sale of Inpria to JSR Corp. for $514 million, the largest payout to date for an Oregon-grown advanced materials company. The company continues to conduct research and manufacture products in Corvallis.
Thanks to Inpria — employing many Oregon State science and engineering graduates who enable the next generation of integrated circuits — the internet will get faster, electric vehicles will benefit from advanced safety features and longer battery life, and artificial intelligence and machine learning will open new and unforeseen opportunities for society.
To explore collaborative opportunities, or the semiconductor program in general, get in touch with the program head at firstname.lastname@example.org.