Culture & People

My Tenacity Doubles During a Crisis! Kyung Hoon Kim TL, Top Inventor of Semiconductor Patents

By December 6, 2019 February 5th, 2020 No Comments

“Tenacity Syndrome.”1 The determination to complete a task once started, even if it is trivial. The SK hynix Newsroom seeks out the members who possess this Tenacity Syndrome, to hear the stories that define the value of SK hynix’s brand’s identity, “tenacity.” Today’s hero is Kyung Hoon Kim, Technical Leader (TL) of the Graphic Design Team, who holds over 100 patents in the semiconductor industry.

The Man with a Passion for Patents

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“Hello, my name is Kyung Hoon Kim of SK hynix’s Graphic Design Team. I’m in charge of designing and analyzing the graphics memory that goes into graphics cards. Graphics memory, which processes high-resolution images, is the key element for leading the development in Computer Graphics (CG). Nowadays, apart from the entertainment industry, it is utilized in various sectors of the 4th Industrial Revolution, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles.

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Since a very young age, Kim liked to create new things based on his own ideas. Majoring in electronics as an undergraduate, he found the field that allowed him to do the same: semiconductor design. With it being something he loved doing, he attained a greater tenacity for it. As semiconductor innovations are not achieved overnight, it demands a lot of time, commitment, and even more tenacity.

What made his tenacity reach new heights was the “patent.” Protecting technologies required for IC design and granting a name to his own circuits fascinated him. His first patent was attained 17 years ago, when he was a newcomer to Hynix Semiconductor (the former name of SK hynix).

Using a Crisis as a Driving Force, the Newcomer Became the Top Inventor of Semiconductor Patents

He joined the company in 2002, when he remembers as a “time of ordeal” for SK hynix. The company was struggling following Korea’s economic problems and IMF intervention, and the company’s acquisition by the US memory company, Micron, was underway. If that wasn’t enough, the company was going through a patent dispute with the US computer memory provider, Rambus, at the same time. Rambus, a leading interface technology company then, filed lawsuits against numerous companies that they claimed violated their patented technologies, and Hynix Semiconductor struggled to respond due to its lack of patents.

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“It was this incident that made me realize the importance of patents. Rambus had a huge influence that extended far enough to control the direction of the whole semiconductor industry, courtesy of its patented technologies. Seeing that level of influence first-hand made me realize that securing a large number of patented technologies was essential to ensure that we are free from this control.”

At that time, when newspapers and magazines ranked companies every year based on the number of patents they hold, first place was always reserved for top global companies such as IBM. The number of patents was a widely accepted measure of a company’s technological prowess. This is why Mr.Kim started to apply for patents, to showcase to the world the company’s advanced technological capability and commitment to its field. He hoped these patents would strengthen the company and ultimately raise the whole nation’s technological status. Since then, Kim has been applying for patents non-stop, now with over 100 patents.

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In May 2019, Mr. Kim’s incredible contributions were recognized with the highly prestigious Tin Tower Order of Industrial Service Merit by the Korean Intellectual Property Office. Tenacity is the secret behind his success. We asked him which patent among the many he’s most proud of.

“Through the ‘Low-power High-speed Operation’ patent which I applied in my 7th year at the company, SK hynix was able to manufacture a high-speed DDR3 memory chip with the lowest level of power consumption at the time. Power consumption was down by 80%. This patented technology is still playing an important role today. While there are many other patented technologies applied to the company’s products, this patent is the most memorable for me as it helped make huge strides in terms of power consumption, the biggest problem in servers.”

Your Eureka Moment Could Occur at Any Time of the Day

Kim has a habit of storing problems always in his head, with no off switch. He explains how some of his greatest ideas came at the most unusual times, many outside his office.

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“There was this one problem I tried to solve for a month. I couldn’t find a solution, so I took a nap to refresh my brain, and I saw the answer I was looking for in my dreams. As soon as I woke up, I was able to trace the pictures from my dream onto a piece of paper. To my disbelief, this was the solution I was searching for. I couldn’t contain my excitement. This was not the first time nor will it be the last. Sometimes I even shout ‘Eureka’ in the bathtub. *laughs* I find it strange too, but there are some problems which can be solved through different perspectives.”

As semiconductor technologies involve many diverse fields of technology, continuous learning and studying different fields outside your area of expertise is crucial, not to miss out on new technological trends.

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“Whenever I hit a wall in my research, I would simply speak with the intelligent colleagues around me, people of all ages who share my passion and understanding of the topic, and this gives me new energy to conduct my research. As we share similar problems, we would talk about the hardships and challenges we face, making it easier to empathize with one another and help each other. It’s also just as important to speak with experts from different fields and industries. Learning something new from another sector sometimes allows me to discover the solution to a problem.”

At the busiest time of his career, Kim would apply for two to three patents a day. Nonetheless, however good the idea was, applying for the patent was far from simple. The first step involves finding out whether there is any existing technology, and if so, a differentiated factor must be defined. After that, a complex application form should be carefully completed and submitted, with a decision to grant or deny the patent given after a thorough reviewing process that could last anywhere between 1 and 3 years. Fortunately for SK hynix engineers, a patent registration system carries out these entire procedures on their behalf, allowing them to focus solely on their potentially groundbreaking ideas.

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“Sometimes, an idea can be perfectly captured in a single drawing, with no need for 10 pages of paperwork. However, when applying for a patent, one piece of drawing is usually far from enough. Fortunately for me, it is possible at SK hynix. If I want to deliver my idea for a patent with a drawing, the in-house patent team and attorney will pay me a visit to discuss and then apply for the patent.”

My Tenacity Doubles During a Crisis

When Kim joined the company, many seniors were leaving the company undergoing an acquisition. However, many people who stayed were determined to endure this hardship, united with the belief that “success will come after we overcome this difficult period.” Kim, a newcomer at the time, was assimilated into this ambiance, and his tenacity became more apparent during an unexpected time of crisis.

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“One time, a circuit I designed proved to be faulty. I didn’t discover this until it was too late, and the company suffered significant financial damage. At that time, I went on a two-week-long business trip while conducting tests with local engineers to try and solve the issue. Fortunately, after putting my best efforts, we were able to address this problem.”

SK hynix has committed to a “culture with no fear of failure,” under the notion that “even a failure is an asset.” This forward-thinking culture encourages developing oneself in the midst of a crisis, and Kim strongly believes this is one of SK hynix’s greatest strengths. “If the company then held the individual responsible, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be here right now,” he said. “Because the company gave me an opportunity to redeem myself, rather than playing the blame game, we were able to achieve some amazing results together since then.”

Kim has been developing himself, experiencing the highs and lows together with the company for the past 17 years. Which direction will his tenacity take him from here? We asked Kim about his future goals and visions.

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“I’m currently designing the graphics memory, but problems are arising as speed requirements keep increasing. It’s impossible to solve new problems with traditional methods, so my biggest goal now is to develop new innovations to solve these emerging problems. Also, my dream is growing together with the millennial generation who are full of passion and creativity. I want to support these bright young people in achieving their full potential. I hope to see many more powerful inventors of semiconductor patents after me.”



1A term coined by SK hynix