business

Patent Making: Suddenly It Clicks

The eighth of eight ways entrepreneurs, investors and savers have made a million. Find out how they did it and read all eight.

Millionaire Lesson No. 8

Forgo the safe route and find an employer who will help you live up to your potential.

By the numbers, Gurtej Sandhu is one of the most prolific inventors in the U.S. What’s more, he has parlayed his education and ingenuity into millionaire status.

Sandhu holds more than 700 patents, which puts him among the top ten patent holders in the nation. He works for Micron Technology, which makes memory microchips that are used in most digital devices, from cell phones to MP3 players. The semiconductor business faces cutthroat competition, and all of Sandhu’s patents focus on making microchips more efficient.

The son of two chemists, Sandhu, 47, was always attracted to math and science. "I liked engineering better than medicine because I didn’t have to deal with blood," he says. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from the elite Indian Institute of Technology, in New Delhi, and received a PhD in physics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1990.

Turning down a job offer from a bigger rival, Sandhu joined Micron, which at the time ranked 16th among makers of memory chips. His physics professor and mentor, W.K. Chu, persuaded Sandhu to take the Micron job because it would give him an opportunity to learn many aspects of the chip-making business rather than being locked in to a specialized job at a larger company.

Inspiration comes quickly, says Sandhu -- "Suddenly it clicks and there’s a flash" -- but it takes dedication to develop an idea from creation to a patent. And sometimes you don’t even comprehend the magnitude of what you’ve discovered. For example, Sandhu developed a method of coating microchips with titanium without exposing the metal to oxygen, which would ruin the chips. Initially, he didn’t think his idea was a big deal, but now most memory-chip makers use the process.

Micron is based in Idaho, and Sandhu enjoys bike riding and spending time with his wife and two teenage sons in and around Boise. "The isolation works for me," he says. "I’m more open to new ideas here."

EIGHT MILLIONAIRE PROFILES

1. The Video That Took on a Life of Its Own

2. Know When to Make the Call

3. Pounce When the Time Is Right

4. It Started Over Cocktails

5. A Thirty-Year Plan to Make a Mil

6. Breaking With Family Tradition

7. Accumulating A Fortune on $11 a Hour

8. Suddenly It Clicks

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