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An open architecture approach to buried passive components: a now expired patent for capacitive power/ground planes in a circuit board could mean that, for thin power ground capacitive layer applications, restrictions are off.

Many applications available to OEM manufacturers for capacitive layer technology, both separately and in combination with resistor technologies, are no longer restricted because the patents that originally described the technology have expired or the technique may be used without restriction.

A planar sandwich capacitor (FIGURE 1) develops a distributed capacitance based on the formula

C = A[epsilon]D/t,

where C is capacitance in picofarads, A is area in square inches, [epsilon] dielectric constant of the insulator, D is a conversion factor (225) and t is the dielectric insulator thickness in mils.


TABLE 1 lists some general trends of the planar capacitor technology. All the technologies described operate on the formula above for simple plate capacitors.

The most senior patent in the field, Leary, is very important and is discussed in detail later. Many patents and methods exist that are not listed on the chart. As can be seen in TABLE 1, development of planar capacitive PCBs began in the mid 1980s. The order of that development is shown in TABLE 2.

Some of the significant capacitive plane type patents, such as a simple plane as shown by Leary, have expired. Leary fully describes the use of capacitive power/ground planes in a circuit board and uses the same calculation for the amount of capacitance developed as all the other planar capacitors in this field. Many applications may use this type of thin power ground capacitive layer without restriction. All thin power ground sandwiches that are thin because of overall thickness requirements fall into this category and many other capacitive planes may fit this definition based on their design. This type of layer is the primary component of an open architecture approach to embedded passive components. By using the Leary type plane with a well-known planar resistor technology such as the Omega Ply material, a complete embedded passive PCB may be fabricated without any special license or cost other than the special materials. This method is cited in this paper as an open architecture model to which other unrestricted technologies may be added.

Leary Explained

Leary (4,494,172) discloses a capacitive "multilayer panel board" (col. 1, 5-10 and 17-26) [Ed.--The parenthetical references are to specific paragraphs in Leary. Figures 4 and 5, as referenced in subsequent paragraphs, are also part of the Leary patent.] The panel board's conductive layers are imaged, printed and etched to form a series of paired power and ground columns of through-hole connectors (col. 6, 24-46).

The "multilayer panel board" is formed by laminating layers to a glass--epoxy core stock (faced on both sides with copper foil) (col. 6, 24-34). In Figures 4 and 5, the voltage plate (18) separated by glass epoxy layer (24) from the ground plate (16) is a capacitor laminate.

Having "mounted electronic components" (col. 1, 65-68).

The glass epoxy core stock faced on both sides by copper foil (laminate) constitutes the base for a multi-layered laminate (col. 6, 24-34).

The epoxy layer having a preferred thickness of 0.005"-0.009" between the copper foil power/ground plates provides a "large distributed capacitance" for the mounted electronic components (col. 4, 6-8; col. 6, 24-34; Figures 4 and 5) where the first sheet of conductive material forms a voltage plate (18) and the second sheet of conductive material forms a ground plate. (16)

Figures 4 and 5 show a multiple capacitor laminate structure. The capacitor (14) + (22) + (16) is in spaced apart relation to the capacitor structure (18) + (26) + (20).

In Figure 4, the through-hole (28) the power plate (14) of capacitor structure (14), (22) and (16) is wired in parallel to the power plate (18) of capacitor structure (18), (26) and (20). In Figure 5, the ground plates are also wired for through-hole (30) connection with surface devices.

Figure 4, where epoxy layers (24), (26) are "thin enough" to establish "a large distributed capacitance" of at least 0.02 microfarads between the voltage plate (18) and ground plates (16), (20) (col. 4, 5-10).

The capacitive layer in the board "inhibits switching signals from causing voltage spikes in the power lines" from the mounted high-speed switching ICs (col. 2, 41-45).

The capacitance provided by the capacitive layer in the board eliminates the requirement of including "many discrete isolation capacitors" (col. 2, 41-45).

While Leary discusses a thicker layer than many of the future technologies, it fully discloses the concept of a thin plane capacitive power/ground plane and the types of values that may be calculated for the distributed capacitance of the planes.

It is the conclusion of this paper that technologies, such as the capacitive planes described in Leary, are available to manufacturers who use simple capacitive planes to create inexpensive capacitive PCBs. Of course, other high technology capacitive planes are available; some are restricted by patent and license. By combining the simplest of these technologies it is now possible to practice these technologies without special license or restrictions. This may prove to be a very large cost savings to those companies that use large volumes of these types of materials.

This paper is adapted from a presentation at the IPC Fall Meeting in September 2003 and is reprinted with permission of the author.
TABLE 1. Sample Chart of Planar Capacitance Technologies


Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0.005-0.009"
Layered Ink [approximately equal to] 0.001"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0.001-0.005"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0.0015"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0.002"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0.002"
Capacitive planes > 0.002"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0.002"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0-0.0005"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0.0005"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0-0.0003"
Capacitive planes [approximately equal to] 0.002-0.004"


Capacitive planes Epoxy Leary, Mupac
Layered Ink Polymer Turek, West-tronic
Capacitive planes PTFE Fischer, WL Gore
Capacitive planes Epoxy Sisler, Unisys
Capacitive planes Epoxy Howard, Sanmina
Capacitive planes Epoxy BaTI03 Paurus, Sanmina
Capacitive planes Resin with powder Ozawa, Murata
Capacitive planes Resin with additives Lucas, Sanmina
Capacitive planes Deposited layers Hoffarth, IBM
Capacitive planes Two deposited layers Frankeny, IBM
Capacitive planes Polymer O'Bryan, 3M
Capacitive planes Polymer Appelt, IBM


Capacitive planes Parallel plane capacitors 1/15/85 1/15/02
Layered Ink Polymer conductive circuit 10/4/88 10/04/05
Capacitive planes PTFE dielectric 2/26/91 2/26/08
Capacitive planes Manufacturing method 4/30/91 4/30/08
Capacitive planes Use of borrowed capacitance 1/07/92 1/07/09
Capacitive planes Prefired nanopowder 11/19/92 11/19/09
Capacitive planes Resin with powder 12/15/92 12/15/09
Capacitive planes Insitu method of lamination 4/06/92 4/06/09
Capacitive planes Different dielectric materials 3/25/96 3/25/13
Capacitive planes Two deposited layers 4/1998 N/A
Capacitive planes Peel strength 8/14/01 N/A
Capacitive planes Two dielectric sheets 4/10/01 11/15/18

TABLE 2. Order of Planar Capacitive PCBs


Planes separated by thin dielectrics Leary, Turek,
 Fischer, Sisler
Planes operating on the principle Howard
of borrowed capacitance
Special dielectric materials including additives Paurus, Ozawa
Special "insitu" method of manufacture Lucas
Multiple dielectric layers, Hoffarth, Frankeny
including different materials
Ultra-thin high capacitance dielectrics O'Bryan

Planes separated by thin dielectrics 1985
Planes operating on the principle 1992
of borrowed capacitance
Special dielectric materials including additives 1992
Special "insitu" method of manufacture 1992
Multiple dielectric layers, 1996
including different materials
Ultra-thin high capacitance dielectrics 2001

JAMES HOWARD is technical director of WUS Printed Circuit Co. ( He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Embedded Technologies
Author:Howard, James
Publication:Printed Circuit Design & Manufacture
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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