Thunderbird Technologies, in Research Triangle Park, N.C., is touting a mission almost as big as its market with a silicon-chip technology that could dramatically improve the performance of integrated circuits and recapture a commanding lead for U.S. semiconductor companies. Indeed, for 63-year-old Albert Vinal, who founded the venture-backed company after 32 years and nearly 80 patents at IBM, the mission to regain a lost advantage for the home team is nearly as compelling as the billion-dollar market he hopes to conquer.

His weapon? A patented transistor and circuit design (some 287 claims granted) that doubles the speed of conventional integrated circuits while cutting their power requirements to one-tenth. The strategy: to license the technology exclusively to U.S. integrated-circuit makers and shun the Japanese.

But at what price? Such nationalism in a global marketplace will mean forgoing revenues, capital, and market share. The company has rejected equity from four Japanese investors and faces slower going trying to raise money in the United States. It will take at least $2 million to design and manufacture the first products -- high-performance chips for the workstation market -- concedes acting CEO Richard Haug. A philosophical Vinal muses, "A business opportunity given up wisely is better than one taken in ignorance."

-- Anne Murphy

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