You would think, with U.S. Government support, i.e., a research and development contract, it would be easy to develop a new semiconductor device.
In my former job at UES, Inc.
we did just that at the request of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency
(the military subsidiary of Homeland Security). It took several years of research and development, minimally and incrementally funded by the U.S. Government, but we succeeded in making a practical
Photo-Conductive Semiconductor Switch (PCSS):
This was accomplished by adding some novel process steps to a PCSS invented earlier by engineers and scientists at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), Albuquerque, NM during the 1990s. Those brilliant folks did their PCSS development work mainly by using discretionary "in-house" funding for almost a decade. They made considerable progress and published their results in the open literature, but eventually they were cut off and told to "get back to work" doing the classified nuclear weapons business for which SNL was created. With the time and money they were allotted, they couldn't find a practical
solution to a serious problem, so their technology lay dormant for more than two decades.
It's a rather long, and maybe even a possibly interesting and entertaining story, that I may write up and post as an attachment to a new thread here in the Forums if anyone appears to be interested. I worked one summer as a contractor, employed by the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) for the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in Albuquerque, NM, helping to establish their Optical Components Evaluation Laboratory (OCEL). SNL is right next door, but I didn't have a clue (much less the Q clearances) to know what, exactly, they did. We were kept busy in the Weapons Lab trying to develop airborne laser weapons as part of Ronald Regan's Star Wars anti-ballistic missile defense program. The last time I saw the Airborne Laser Laboratory (ALL) aircraft, it was parked outside at the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, OH. Someone had removed all the optical "goodies" by the time it got there. It is my understanding that the Air Force later rigged up another airplane with a "bigger and better" laser, but so far the program has gone nowhere and produced zilch.
Our research, OTOH, was successful. Prototype devices were fabricated, delivered and tested, and a patent in my supervisor's name and my name (as co-inventor) was applied for. Our prototype won an R&D 100 award
and national recognition in 2015, but the USPTO has now twice denied our patent application
, first citing prior work by SNL, who used optics to create parallel illumination lines from a laser light-source to trigger the PCSS. This was true but totally unlike anything we did and claimed. Later, the USPTO cited a totally unrelated ion implant procedure they claimed also took precedence over our claims.
My former employer does not have deep pockets of cash to spend on attorneys to pursue the patent. It relies on government contracts to support its business model, much like Northrup Grumman or Lockheed Martin, but on a much smaller scale. Nor does the government care
if we were issued a patent or not. The government paid for the R&D and the prototype PCSS devices. It therefore has an interest in the technology we developed at taxpayer expense, whether patented or not. It would be nice if there were commercial applications lined up waiting for this, but we could find no one after more than a year of searching. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places, but in the end I lost my job and was "forced" into retirement because we had a "solution" but apparently there was no one with a "problem" that needed it. Kinda reminds me of the situation during the early years of laser development.
The story hasn't ended. Patent or no patent, UES, Inc. knows how to successfully make these PCSS devices. Recently the company was awarded a small contract that requires a few more of them to be made. It's not something you can order online from DigiKey or Mouser yet, but if anyone really
needs a high-voltage (kilovolts, scale-able to megavolts), high-current (kiloamperes), really fast (picosecond turn-on), high optical gain (micro-joules to trigger) pulsed switch... or a few thousand of 'em... I am sure something can be worked out.
So that's just an example of one possible deterrent on your path to sprucing up the venerable 555 integrated circuit. Starting with something that almost
works the way you want, like the 555 or your late twentieth century PCSS, and improving it is not enough. You need lots of money, meaning investors, who will hire lawyers and subcontract out masking and manufacturing to independent semiconductor fabrication plants (there are several, worldwide). Then you need more money for marketing, since there are competitive alternatives to what you proposed. It's not like buying an empty corn field, building a ball park there, and believing they will come, waving dollar bills in your face to purchase your "new and improved" 555 timer. And investors like to have "patent protection" for their investment money.