Lee Jong-ho, chip 'genius,' nominated to be science minister
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol nominated Lee as the new head of the Ministry of Science and ICT on April 10, when he made a total of eight Cabinet nominations.
Lee faces a parliamentary confirmation hearing but does not need National Assembly approval. The president can push through the nomination.
Yoon has made semiconductors top priority, contemplating a wide range of support for chip education and enhanced support for chipmakers.
Lee has published hundreds of papers and filed dozens of patents in the semiconductor field. Samsung Electronics was ordered to pay $200 million for patent infringement related to intellectual property he developed.
Born in 1966 in Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang, Lee studied electronics engineering at the Kyungpook National University. He then received his master's and doctorate degrees from Seoul National University.
Lee has worked as an electrical engineering professor at Wonkwang University and as an electronics engineering professor at Kyungpook National University. He has been teaching at Seoul National University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering since 2009. Lee is also the director of Seoul National University's Inter-University Semiconductor Research Center.
Many of his colleagues praise him for his abilities and diligence.
"Whenever attending academic seminars overseas, Lee always sits in front, listens to presentations to the end, and asks incisive questions," Cho Chan-seob, an electronics engineering professor at Kyungpook National University, told the JoongAng Ilbo.
Cho studied with Lee when they were undergraduates at Kyungpook National University in 1983.
"Lee says his hobby is research," Cho continued. "Basically, he is a hard-working genius."
Hahm Sung-ho, who teaches electronics engineering at Kyungpook National University, said Lee "worked hard in his research."
Lee has published 514 papers in the semiconductor field and registered 86 patents.
One of his notable patents is related to bulk fin field-effect transistors (FinFET), which he developed in 2001 in collaboration with KAIST. Bulk FinFET is a three-dimensional transistor technology used in smartphones and tablet computers that reduces energy consumption and improves performance.
Lee registered a patent for the technology in 2003 in the United States. In 2012, Intel paid him 10 billion won ($8.1 million) in fees to use the patented technology. He then transferred the patent rights to KIP, a subsidiary of KAIST, established to manage patent rights.
In 2016, KIP filed a patent violation lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against Samsung Electronics, claiming that the company had been using the technology since 2015 without paying royalties.
In February 2020, the court ordered Samsung Electronics to pay $200 million in compensation for "deliberate" infringement of technology held by KIP. But the order was nullified after Samsung reached an agreement with KIP, though the details have not been disclosed.
Apple paid fees to use the technology in 2019.
"Lee has many outstanding achievements in his study and is actively engaged in the industry through training of employees in semiconductor companies and participating in academic seminars," said Ahn Ki-hyun, an executive director of the Korea Semiconductor Industry Association.
BY CHOI EUN-KYUNG, LEE SU-JEONG AND SARAH CHEA [firstname.lastname@example.org]