More than any other industry, the semiconductor business is defined by rapid technological change. As a result, a constant and high level of investment in R&D is essential to the competitive positions of semiconductor suppliers.
Figure 1 shows IC Insights’ 2014 ranking of semiconductor companies by R&D spending. Among the top 10 R&D spenders in 2014, five were based in the U.S., three from the Asia-Pacific region, and Japan and Europe each had one company represented. The list includes five IDMs, four fabless suppliers, and foundry operator TSMC.
Intel topped all chip companies in R&D spending in 2014, accounting for 36% of the top-10 spending and 21 percent of the $56.0 billion in total worldwide semiconductor R&D expenditures. The industry’s two largest IDMs—Intel and Samsung—continue to emphasize internal production capacity for advanced ICs in leading-edge wafer fabs. Consequently, spending on R&D programs at the two IC giants has kept growing, but at different rates in recent years. This is partly due to Samsung’s ability to hold down some costs by participating in IBM’s Common Platform joint development alliance, which also includes GlobalFoundries as an R&D partner.
Fabless IC supplier Qualcomm kept pace with Intel to remain the second-largest spender, a position it first achieved in 2012. Qualcomm showed the largest percentage increase among the top 10 suppliers with a 62 percent boost in its R&D spending in 2014. Fabless suppliers Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Broadcom had the highest R&D spending as a percent of sales ratios in 2014 at 31.3 percent, 28.5 percent, and 28.2 percent, respectively. Broadcom’s spending in 2014 declined for the first time since 2003, while Nvidia’s 2014 spending increased just three percent, but both companies have consistently spent in the range of 30 percent of revenue on R&D the past several years.
TSMC’s 15 percent R&D spending increase in 2014, along with a decline in spending at Toshiba and ST, moved the company up two slots to number 5 in the ranking. As a result of the growing number of IC manufacturers adopting the fab-lite business model or becoming completely fabless, TSMC joined the group of top-10 R&D spenders for the first time in 2010. Micron and MediaTek also moved up in the ranking. MediaTek became a top-10 spender following its acquisition of fellow Taiwanese fabless supplier MStar in early 2014 (the ranking shows the combined results of MediaTek and MStar).
Five other IC companies had R&D spending of at least $1.0 billion in 2014 but did not make the top 10 ranking. These included Texas Instruments, $1.36 billion; SK Hynix, $1.33 billion; Marvell, $1.18 billion; AMD, $1.06 billion; and Avago, $1.00 billion.
Additional details on semiconductor R&D spending and other technology trends within the IC industry are provided within the IC industry are provided in The McClean Report—A Complete Analysis and Forecast of the Integrated Circuit Industry (released in January 2015), which features more than 400 tables and graphs in the main report alone.