Patents on the Web
A Grand Slam in Patents
New Chip Exceed Speed Barrier
Showcasing Solutions for Industry
Adventures in Software
Seeing the Light
Automatic Circuit Tuning
Patents on the Web
Chemical reactions involve more than just the chemical identity of
the reactants. Some take place only when the reacting molecules are
properly aligned. Scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center and the
University of California, Santa Barbara, have recently extended the
understanding of geometry's role to a new arena: reactions at surfaces.
In a pioneering experiment, they have found that molecules that spin
parallel to an approaching surface, like helicopters landing, are more
likely to react with the surface than molecules that approach
perpendicularly with a cartwheel-like spin.
The work has basic and commercial objectives. "The ultimate goal is
to understand chemical reactions at surfaces on an atom-by-atom basis,"
says Daniel Auerbach, an Almaden participant in the team. "That
understanding is important for manufacturing processes in
microelectronics and storage, and in general to vacuum processes that
involve reactions with surfaces."
The team used a simple, well-characterized reaction, between
molecules of deuterium - an isotope of hydrogen - and a copper surface.
For technical reasons, they studied the reaction backward, monitoring
how atoms of deuterium combine on a copper surface to form molecules
that then leave the surface. Those observations showed the existence of
a reaction barrier that can prevent arriving molecules from splitting
into atoms, which attach to the surface, once they land. Molecules that
rotate parallel to the surface as they approach, the team reports in
the July 4 issue of Science, are up to three times more successful in
reacting with the copper surface than those tumbling end over end.
That finding supports the idea that the barrier to reaction is
smallest if both the atoms in the incoming molecule can form chemical
bonds with the surface at the same time. In that case, explains
Auerbach, the energy required to break the molecular bond between those
atoms is immediately offset by the energy released as the atoms form
new bonds with copper atoms on the surface.
Now, in the effort to gain deeper understanding of chemical
reactions at surfaces, the team is seeking better data and more
sensitivity for experiments on alignment effects for rotating
molecules. The researchers are also studying the surface reactions of
strongly vibrating molecules. "We're very excited about understanding
the role of large amounts of vibrational energy in reactions at
surfaces," says Auerbach. "We're hoping to find new and exciting
chemistry with potential applications."
A Grand Slam in Patents
Last year, for the fourth straight year, IBM received more patents
from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office than any other company. Its
total of 1,867 exceeded the second-place score by 329, according to
figures released by IFI/Plenum Data Corporation. The mark also
surpassed IBM's own one-year record for U.S. patents: the 1,383 that it
received in 1995. More than a quarter-century's worth of U.S. patents,
from IBM and other companies, are available on the company's new Patent
Server site (see above).
Filing patents is more than a numbers game. For while no direct link
exists between patents and the marketplace, awards of patents manifest
the vitality of IBM's R&D and provide the company with both
opportunities to license emerging technologies and freedom of action
with respect to other companies' patents. Just as important, explains
Manny Schecter, Research's intellectual property counsel, many IBM
patents involve technology about to be incorporated into products.
IBM's 1996 patents cover a broad swath of the information technology
industry, including software, networking, computer systems,
microprocessors, memory chips and storage technology. Roughly 400 of
the patents resulted in some way from work by the Research Division. As
in previous years, the division produced about 20 percent of the
patents directly and played a role in another 5 percent of the total.
Highlights from Research in last year's patents include:
- A wireless local area network invention that enables a mobile
ThinkPad to establish and maintain a radio connection even in
interference-laden environments such as crowded offices (U.S.
- High-quality, digitized visual images encoded with a
watermark to protect ownership (U.S. 5,530,759).
- < A frame-sampling technique to provide users with either
browsing or fast-forward capability while screening a movie downloaded
from a server through video-on-demand (U.S. 5,521,630).
More than 350 of IBM's 1996 patents are related to networking. That
record number illustrates the company's determination to move its
R&D toward network-computing-related technologies. "IBM's
accelerating rate of patent innovation is a direct response to the
challenge of the marketplace - to develop user-oriented products for a
networked world," explains Marshall Phelps Jr., vice president of
intellectual property and licensing for IBM.
Research is following that cue. According to Schecter, the division
has recently stepped up its efforts to earn licensing fees from its
patents, both by itself and in a support role for other IBM divisions.
New Chip Exceeds Speed Barrier
Scientists at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center, in
collaboration with designers at IBM's System/390® Division, have
created one of the world's fastest complex instruction set computing
(CISC®) chips. The new chip will serve as the microprocessor for a new
generation of IBM S/390 high-end servers.
The chip's clock speed of 400 megahertz exceeds that of all but one
other previous CISC chip. Just as significant is its complementary
metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology, which replaces the bipolar
technology used in previous S/390 microprocessors. According to Carl
Anderson, who led the Watson team that worked on the design, the choice
of CMOS reflects IBM's commitment to higher performance at lower
operating costs for its high-end servers.
The 17-millimeter-square chip, which contains 7.8 million
transistors, offers higher efficiency than bipolar chips because it is
smaller and cooled by air rather than water. As a result, just 32 of
the CMOS chips in a single grouping known as a thermal conductivity
module (TCM) can replace 50 TCMs containing 100 bipolar chips apiece.
"Instead of filling up a big room, machines with this technology are
now the size of a refrigerator," says Anderson.
The design features two major innovations. First, the microprocessor
is optimized for the sets of instructions that users encounter most
often. And it has a unique, extremely fast error-checking capability.
Second, two processing units execute every instruction, while a third
checks the results to make sure that the concurrently executed
instructions match. The effect, according to Anderson: no more than a
single unplanned outage every 16 years.
Showcasing Solutions for Industry
As part of the effort to move emerging technologies rapidly into the
marketplace, IBM has set up three Industry Solutions Labs. The Labs,
intended to introduce existing and potential customers to IBM's
technologically advanced solutions, are located at the Hawthorne site
at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center, and at IBM laboratories in
Stuttgart, Germany, and Yamato, Japan. The three Industry Solutions
Labs, which opened in February, are run by the company's Industry
Solutions Units (ISUs) "against the backdrop of Research," explains
Roger Pollak, a Watson scientist who is helping to coordinate
activities between Watson and its Industry Solutions Lab. The
first-of-a-kind solution demonstrations assembled at the Industry
Solutions Labs differentiate the Labs from IBM's traditional customer
The new Labs will showcase Research technologies in the context of
industries' future needs. To that end, they feature displays of the
latest products that have resulted from Research's efforts; prototypes
from the company's first-of-a-kind research projects developed for
specific customers that are replicable for others; and illustrations of
more basic research. Facilities include state-of-the-art presentation
facilities, lounges, dining rooms, kitchen, offices and other executive
comforts. "The Labs are facilities where a customer can come together
with Research and other IBM experts to discuss their business problems
and collaborate on solutions," explains Maureen Sorbo, the Labs' global
industries solutions investment executive.
Corporate delegations of five, ten or more individuals, invited by
ISUs, will generally visit for a full day, to share views on where
their industries are heading. IBM's basic aim is to engage visitors
interactively in discussions about the future of their industries and
to point out new areas of its technology that may be customized as
solutions for that future. The Labs will focus particularly on network
computing solutions that can help companies transform their businesses.
The Research Division also benefits from the Industry Solutions
Labs. "We gain a better understanding of customers' needs," says
Pollak. "Also, through interaction with industry decision-makers,
Research can better anticipate the emerging requirements of the
Adventures in Software
Late in 1995, as part of a year-end review, executives at IBM's
Thomas J. Watson Research Center concluded that Research needed a new
approach in the systems and software area. "We were too focused and
risk-averse," recalls Stephen Lavenberg, a member of the systems and
software technical staff at Watson. To respond to those deficiencies, a
program called Adventurous Systems and Software Research (ASSR) was set
up late last year by Ambuj Goyal, VP Systems and Software at Watson.
Designed to break new technical ground and to spark sea changes in the
systems and software industry, ASSR will foster long-term, high-risk,
high-reward research. Under Lavenberg's leadership, a team from
Almaden, Watson and Zurich evaluated over three dozen proposals.
Watson's first four ASSR projects have just been announced:
- New approaches to dealing with the information economy - the
anticipated crowding in cyberspace that could develop when
billions of agents operate throughout networks.
- Highly scalable multiprocessor operating systems for the computers that will soon become available to the public.
- Software, called pellets, that is launched into the network to
dynamically access services distributed across multiple Web sites.
- Speech verification systems (see page 18) that will identify speakers' voices without training.
Meanwhile, the Almaden Research Center and the Zurich Research
Laboratory have recently announced their own ASSR programs. Both
centers have put out requests for proposals.
Lavenberg emphasizes that ASSR represents just one approach to
adventurous activity within Research. What the new program offers, he
says, is the opportunity to work on software projects "in the 'white
space' outside our regular strategic framework."
This new, occasional feature will highlight fresh programs
and projects on Research's agenda.
Donald D. Chamberlin, research staff member at IBM's Almaden
Research Center, is one of 85 new members elected to the National
Academy of Engineering. In electing Chamberlin, the Academy recognized
his contributions to the SQL(TM) database query language.
Dieter Pohl of the Zurich Research Laboratory has been named
co-recipient of the 1997 Rank Prize, for contributions to the science
and applications of near-field optics (NFO). Pohl and his colleagues
conceived of, built and demonstrated a completely new type of optical
microscope, on which IBM holds the basic patent.
The American Ceramic Society has elected Zurich IBM Fellow J.
Georg Bednorz an Honorary Member. The election recognizes the discovery
of high-temperature superconductivity in a ceramic oxide, for which
Bednorz shared the 1987 Nobel prize in physics with Zurich's Alex
The ACM has elected Watson's Philip S. Yu as a Fellow. The election
recognizes Yu's contributions to the theory and practice of design and
analysis of database systems, parallel architectures and algorithms.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) will
present its 1997 Cledo Brunetti Award to Watson researcher George A.
Sai-Halasz, for developing sub-0.1 micron MOSFET devices and circuits.
Sai-Halasz and his colleagues redefined the limits of field-effect
transistor (FET) technology by designing and fabricating devices and
circuits down to 0.05 micron channel lengths. This work demonstrated
that 0.1 micron and below was feasible, and established silicon FETs as
the highperformance technology of the future.
The IEEE has also elected several employees of IBM Research as
Fellows. They are: Ram Chillarege of Watson, for contributions to the
theory and practice of the design of reliable software; Philip G. Emma
of Watson, for innovation in high-performance computer architecture;
Ronald Fagin of Almaden, for contributions to finite-model theory and
to relational database theory; Roger F. Hoyt, an Almaden alumnus now in
IBM's Storage Systems Division, for contributions to magnetic rigid
disk storage and interface reliability; Klaas B. Klaassen of Almaden,
for contributions to advanced measurement and analog circuit designs
for magnetic recording; Eric Kronstadt of Watson, for contributions to
processor architectures, compilers and operating systems; Jorma J.
Rissanen of Almaden, for developing the principle of minimum
description length and stochastic complexity for model selection and
data compression; Lubomyr T. Romankiw of Watson, for inventing the
magnetic thin-film inductive head and the magnetoresistive induc
tive merged head, and for major contributions to the science and
technology of electrochemistry; Jane M. Shaw of Watson, for inventing
the silylation process and other contributions to microlithographic
The American Physical Society has elected the following Watson
researchers as Fellows: Philip E. Bateson, for contributions to
electron spectroscopy studies of matter; Massimo V. Fischetti, for
predictive modeling of submicron semiconductor devices; Jeffrey A.
Kash, for application of optical techniques to understanding
excitations in semiconductors; Fenton R. McFeely, for applying
photoemission techniques to processes that underlie microelectronics
technology; and James A. Misewich, for applying innovative laser
techniques to fundamental problems in molecular dynamics and
HotVideo is a new hyper-linked video technology invented by the China
Research Laboratory in cooperation with Watson. It provides rich interactivity
to conventional video from various sources: local files, server files, CD-ROM,
and Internet. HotVideo has many potential applications in education, digital
library, E-commerce, games and advertising. The technology consists of HvMaker,
a user-friendly authoring tool for content creation, and HvPlayer, a Windows 95®
application and plug-in for Netscape® Navigator and Microsoft Internet
Explorer®. It will soon be made available on IBM's alphaWorks site.
Driving Up Disk Density
Researchers at the Almaden Research Center have demonstrated for the first
time the ability of product-level components to write and read data stored on a
computer hard disk at a density of more than 5 gigabits (5 billion bits) per
square inch. Such a density is almost three times that of IBM's Travelstar(TM)
VP, the most advanced disk drive now available.
Polymers in Line
Scientists at Almaden and the University of Massachusetts have devised a
simple technique for precisely controlling the interfacial energies and wetting
behavior of polymers in contact with solid surfaces. This approach, reported in
Science, makes it possible to align specific parts of a polymer and could find
use in the synthesis of man-made membranes with definable properties.
Seeing the Light
Physical effects can have obvious implications for technology that are
easily ignored unless the scientists who know the effects and the engineers who
know the technology can meet on common ground. Such was the case with an
observation by Jeff Kash and Jim Tsang, scientists at the Thomas J. Watson
Research Center. Their recognition, in November 1995, of a previously neglected
aspect of a well-characterized physical phenomenon and subsequent collaboration
with colleagues in the IBM Microelectronics Division (IMD) have led to a
diagnostic tool with immense significance for IBM and, indirectly, the global
Scientists have long known that the field effect transistors (FETs) that are
the building blocks of the complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS)
circuits widely used in integrated circuit technology emit tiny amounts of light
when a current is running through them. It was also known that currents pass
through normally-operating CMOS circuits only when they switch from one state to
another ÷ such as "on" to "off." Kash and Tsang put
those two facts together and realized that they could use the light emission to
monitor the switching of the individual components of CMOS chips. "It was
so simple we were surprised for a long time that nobody else seemed to have
realized it," says Kash.
To confirm the effect, the pair used basic photodetectors to monitor the
light emission from simple high-speed circuits fabricated at the IMD facility in
Burlington, Vermont. Then, recalls Tsang, "we realized we had the equipment
- an exotic photomultiplier - to look at every device on a chip
simultaneously." They soon proved that ability by monitoring a ring
oscillator circuit, in which successive components switch on and off in order.
Collaborating with colleagues in IMD, they proved that the technique works with
more complex systems such as IBM microprocessors.
Since then the researchers have worked on ways to make the technique
practical. Its chief application is in spotting and diagnosing faults in chips
at the design and prototyping levels. Late last year, for example, Kash and
Tsang used the method to identify a problem in the Alliance chip then under
development. "Using this technique," says Kash, "you
can figure out how to make your chips run faster." The technique can also
be applied to the failure analysis of chips emerging from full-scale
Automatic Circuit Training
In high-performance custom-designed chips, the sizes of individual
transistors are tuned to maximize the performance of the circuit. The key
parameters are transistor widths, which control the amount of current that flows
through each transistor. In simple terms, wider transistors generally lead to
faster circuits but consume more power and area, and increase the load on
previous stages of the circuit. Designers tune their circuits by adjusting the
widths of transistors to obtain optimum performance.
The traditional method, says Chandu Visweswariah, a researcher at IBM's
Thomas J. Watson Research Center, is "a slow, tedious, manual and
error-prone process." Now Visweswariah and his Watson colleagues Andrew
Conn and Ruud Haring have devised a computer-aided design tool, called
JiffyTune, that automates circuit tuning while permitting its use on far larger
circuits than previous techniques allowed.
The approach stemmed from the search for a method to break the computational
bottleneck of dynamic tuning. Dynamic tuning relies on circuit simulation
programs, most notably IBM's proprietary simulator AS/X and Simulation Program
with Integrated Circuit Emphasis (SPICE), the industry standard for 25 years.
While the numerical algorithms in SPICE-like simulators are accurate to within 1
percent, they are slow. Automatic tuning with SPICE in the inner loop is limited
to 10 tunable transistors.
Four years ago, Visweswariah wrote a tool called Simulation Program for
Electronic Circuits and Systems (SPECS). Although somewhat less accurate than
SPICE, it runs about 70 times as fast. Nevertheless, the fast simulation by
itself would render feasible the tuning of only about 30 transistors
simultaneously. Extending the process beyond 30 tunable transistors demanded
more sophisticated techniques.
Enter the team's JiffyTune engine, a gradient-based optimizer that exploits
the unique capability of SPECS to compute circuit gradients efficiently.
JiffyTune iteratively feeds transistor sizes to SPECS to obtain values of
circuit performances such as delay and power, and their gradient with respect to
transistor sizes. The values are supplied to LANCELOT, a general purpose
nonlinear optimization package coauthored by Conn, which determines each fresh
step in the tuning process as a set of transistor size changes. The iterative
process stops when the circuit has reached optimum performance within
predetermined constraints, such as area, power, delay or minimum transistor
Key to JiffyTune's acceptance is its designer-friendly interface. Built by
Haring, it comes with a point-and-click facility, prompts, and graphical
back-annotation of transistor widths onto the circuit schematic. All the tuning
criteria are stored as attributes of the circuit schematic, thus facilitating
design reuse at the push of a button. "With JiffyTune," says
Visweswariah, "you never need to redo work you've already done."
So far, JiffyTune has tuned circuits with about 1,000 tunable transistors.
The Watson team is now extending the technology. It has recently filed a patent
application on a method that significantly reduces the time required to compute
circuit gradients, thus enabling JiffyTune to optimize larger circuits. "It's
a state-of-the-art way of carrying out optimization," says Conn.
What is JiffyTune's value? "In addition to making IBM circuit designs
better," explains Visweswariah, "it improves our designers'