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The history of embedded distributed capacitance; embedded distributed capacitance is much older than most think, with the first known U.S. patents being issued in the 1920s. A look at six important--yet overlooked--works.

Embedded distributed capacitance as a concept has been around since the 1920s, and was not invented in the late 1980s as some believe. In fact, embedded distributed capacitance and thin film nickel alloy resistors have been known in the art for many years. Both have been commercially practiced since at least the mid-1980s.

Certainly embedded passives, and specifically embedded capacitance, have been a hot topic over the past five years. During this time there have been at least two industry consortia (1,2) on the topic, numerous presentations at technical conferences and a variety, of trade journal publications (3-10). The many advantages of embedded passives over traditional discrete technology in circuit boards and chip packages have been well documented in cited media. These advantages include improved electrical performance such as lower power bus noise and voltage ripple, reduced EMI, reduction in board size or layer count, removal of discrete components, cost reduction and improved reliability.

Embedded distributed capacitance is a rather simple concept. It involves using closely spaced power and ground planes as a parallel plate capacitor for power supply decoupling. Closely spaced power and ground planes provide significant capacitance and have very low inductance, ideal for power supply decoupling. This distributed embedded capacitance can also be used to replace discrete power supply decoupling capacitors from the board surface (11). Further, the closely spaced planes provide very effective dampening of high-frequency noise on the planes.

As mentioned, the concept of embedded distributed capacitance has been around since the 1920s. The following is a brief review of a number of patents that discuss and/or show examples of the concept of embedded distributed capacitance. This article focuses on U.S. patents only, although the concept of embedded distributed capacitance can also be found in other sources besides U.S. patent literature.

We begin with the most recent patent. U.S. Pat. No. 4,560,962 ("the '962 patent") was filed in 1983, issued to Michael Barrow in 1985, and assigned to Burroughs Corp. The '962 patent describes a printed circuit board of six planar conductive layers separated by dielectric epoxy glass (FIGURE 1). The voltage (power) and ground planes are each one ounce (0.0014" or 35 [micro]m) copper. The power plane is "separated from the ground plane by 0.005" of [epoxy-glass] substrate. This minimum separation ensures good voltage to ground noise decoupling." The patent states that a "substrate of 5 mils is useful since the standard manufacturing practice is to provide a 5 mil separation between a ground plane and a voltage plane of conductive copper. However, this substrate thickness, normally standard for manufacturing, could be anywhere 'from 1 mil [25 [micro]m] to 5 mils in thickness."


U.S. Pat. No. 4,494,172 ("the '172 patent"), was filed in 1982, issued to Burton Leary, et al. in 1985, and assigned to Mupac Corp. (12,13) The '172 patent describes a multilayer panel board with two copper voltage plates and two copper ground plates separated from each other by a layer of glass epoxy (FIGURE 2). One of the voltage plates is located between the two ground plates. The epoxy layers between the voltage plate and ground plates are "between about 0.005 inches and about 0.009 inches" thick "to establish a large distributed capacitance of about 0.03 microfarads between the voltage plate and ground plates." The patent further states that "the close spacing of a voltage layer between two ground layers provides a large distributed capacitance (without requiring many discrete isolation capacitors) which inhibits switching signals from causing voltage spikes in the power lines [power bus noise]." Mupac shipped millions of dollars of wire wrap boards using the Leary construction prior to 1989. (12,14)


U.S. Pat. No. 4,004,196 ("the '196 patent"), was filed in 1975, issued to Leonard A. Doucet in 1977, and assigned to Augat Inc. The '196 patent describes a multilayer panel board having three voltage planes in combination with one or more single-in-line package (SIP) termination resistor networks. The voltage planes are separated by conventional insulating board such as glass epoxy. One voltage plane is used for ground. The '196 patent states that "all of the voltage planes provide low impedance power distribution. The capacitance between each voltage plane is about 1,000 pF for a DIP panel, enough to provide a low-noise reference plane for most applications." The patent goes on to state: "If desired, one of the voltage planes could be separated into two independent adjacent areas [split power plane] to provide yet a fourth bus."

U.S. Pat. No. 3,519,959 ("the '959 patent") was filed in 1966 (with a continuation-in-part filed in 1969), issued to Lawrence L. Bewley, et al. in 1970, and was assigned to Burroughs Corp. The '959 patent describes an electrical signal distribution network, which can include two layers of embedded distributed capacitance (see, e.g., FIGURE 3). The patent describes a "conductive sheet having a direct current voltage applied thereto [that] is sandwiched between a pair of thin dielectric sheets having a high dielectric constant. These sheets are sandwiched between two additional conductive sheets that are maintained at ground potential. The resulting active voltage sheet is characterized by a low impedance and high capacity to ground. Noise spikes resulting from switching or other electrical disturbances in components drawing power from this active plane are grounded by the high capacity and an improved noise level and component performance results from this invention."


The '959 patent also states that "the conductive sheets may be any suitable conductive material such as Copper, silver or gold. The dielectric sheets may be any suitable dielectric such as epoxy glass." The patent goes on to say that "the dielectric sheets for the distribution network of this invention can be selected from materials having known dielectric constants. By varying the thickness of the dielectric sheets having a desired dielectric constant, the inductance for the network is controllably decreased and the capacitance for the network is controllably increased."

Finally, the '959 patent states that the current carrying sheet "may be a two ounce copper sheet approximately .0025 inch thick" and that "epoxy glass sheets may have a dielectric constant of 4 and are also approximately .0025 inch thick."

U.S. Pat. No. 3,312,870 ("the '870 patent"), was filed in 1964, issued to William T. Rhoades in 1967, and assigned to Hughes Aircraft Co. The '870 patent states that an object of the invention is "to provide an electrical transmission system which minimizes the transmission of transient electrical fluctuations" (power bus noise) such as those caused by simultaneously switching of electronic circuits in complex electronic equipment such as computers. The patent also states that "another object of the invention is the provision of an electrical transmission system having an extremely low impedance."

The '870 invention accomplishes these objectives by having "an electrical transmission line formed of three elongated conductive plates having insulated outer surfaces. The plates are arranged with their broad surfaces substantially coextensive, parallel and adjacent to form a laminated structure. The inner plate is used as the current path for conduction in one direction and the return path is by way of the two outer plates in parallel." (See FIGURE 4.) The conductive plates in the example are made of aluminum alloy but the patent states that electrical conductors other than aluminum can also be used.


The '870 patent goes on to explain that "placing the current path as close as possible to the return path reduces the effective inductance of the transmission line by cancellation of the inductive field. Hence, the insulating films are made as thin as is feasible." The patent explains that this can be accomplished by anodizing the aluminum plates to a depth of 0.0005" and laminating them together under heat and pressure with an epoxy resin. In this case, the epoxy resin is only 0.0002" or less in thickness. The patent continues with: "To decrease the capacitance reactance of the transmission line, the capacitance between the plates is made as high as possible." This is accomplished by keeping the insulation layer as thin as possible and by further adding a "loading" material to the adhesive. In this case, aluminum oxide powder on the order of 350 to 450 mesh was used, which increased the dielectric constant of the adhesive to 30. This provided a transmission line with a capacitance of 300 nanofarads per foot in length and a characteristic impedance of 0.05[ohm] (50 milliohms).

The '870 patent goes on to explain that when computers used conventional wiring instead of the transmission lines of the invention, the speed of the gate circuits is in the range of 500--1000 nanoseconds. When a transmission line of the invention was used to distribute power to the circuit hoard, the speed of the gates was approximately 20 nanoseconds. When a different embodiment of the transmission line was used, the speed of the gates was on the order of about one nanosecond.

Finally, U.S. Pat. No. 1,999,137 ("the '137 patent"), filed in 1926, issued to Edmund T. Flewelling in 1935, and assigned to Frank L. Walker, sought to bypass high-frequency currents and to simplify wiring--primarily for radio apparatus. The '137 patent describes a "combined [power] distributor and condenser [capacitor] strip consisting of a plurality of separate electrical conductors arranged in parallel spaced relation, and preferably in a body of dielectric or insulating material." (See FIGURE 5.)


The '137 patent goes on to state that "the multiconductors are preferably thin flat strips of sheet metal" and that "these metallic conductor strips are separated one from another by interposed strips of fabric impregnated with phenolic condensation material or other material possessing insulating and dielectric properties. The assembly is then permanently united, preferably though not necessary, under the influence of heat and pressure to form a unitary strip or body in which the conductor strips are fixedly embedded in parallel spaced relation."

The '137 patent recognized that this method of "electrical distribution," in addition to being useful for device mounting, power distribution and simplified wiring, was most important for capacitive effects by the statement: "The convenience of this multi conductor strip for distribution of electrical current ... is, however, more or less subordinate to the intercapacity electrical effect afforded by the superposed spaced conductor strips which form a fixed by-pass condenser for all alternating currents whether radio or audio frequency."

In summary, the above six U.S. patents clearly demonstrate several facts about the history of embedded distributed capacitance:

* The concept of intercapacity electrical effect of metallic conductor strips interposed with dielectric materials for use in electronics dates to at least 1926 (U.S. Pat. No. 1,999,137).

* The concept of using power and ground planes in printed circuit boards has been in the public domain for almost 40 years (U.S. Pat. No. 3,312,870).

* The concept of using very thin epoxy glass (approximately 0.0025") between copper power and ground planes in multilayer printed circuit boards, very similar to what is done in high volume today, goes back to at least the late 1960s (U.S. Pat. No. 3,519,959).

* The concept of using dielectric spacing below 0.002" between the power and ground planes in an epoxy glass multilayer printed circuit board is at least 20 years old (U.S. Pat. No. 4,560,962).

Thus, the notion that embedded distributed capacitance was invented in the late 1980s is greatly mistaken. The concept of distributed embedded capacitance for use in printed circuit boards has been known for almost 40 years.


(1.) NCMS Embedded Decoupling Capacitance (EDC) Project.

(2.) NIST Advanced Embedded Passives Technology (AEPT) Project.

(3.) IMAPS ATW on Military, Aerospace, Space and Homeland Security: Packaging Issues and Applications, March 2004.

(4.) DesignCon 2004 TecForum 9: "Thin and VeryThin Laminates for Power Distribution Applications: What is New in 2004?" February 2004.

(5.) IPC 1st International Conference on Embedded Passives, June 2003.

(6.) IPC Expo 2003, Embedded Passive Devices I and II, March 2003.

(7.) DesignCon 2002 TecForum HP-TF2: "Thin PCB Laminates for Power Distribution, How Thin is Thin Enough?" February 2002,

(8.) J.S. Peiffer, "A Novel Embedded Cap Material" PC FAB, February 2001, pp. 48-52.

(9.) National Center for Manufacturing Sciences EDC Project Final Report, December 2000.

(10.) IMAPS ATW on Integrated Passives Technology, April 1998.

(11.) J.S. Peiffer, "Ultra-Thin, Loaded Epoxy Materials for Use as Embedded Capacitor Layers," PCD&M, April 2004, pp. 40-42.

(12.) Mike Buetow, "There Was Prior Art, ZBC Inventor Says," PCD&M, November 2003, p. 10.

(13.) James Howard, "An Open Architecture Approach to Buried Passive Components," PCD&M, December 2003, pp. 40-41.

(14.) Conversation with Shaun (Dennis) Silverio, coinventor of U.S. Patent 4,494,172.

JOEL S. PEIFFER is an applications engineering specialist in the Corporate Research Materials Laboratory, 3M Co. ( He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:Embedded Capacitance Patents
Author:Peiffer, Joel S.
Publication:Printed Circuit Design & Manufacture
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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