ST came third after Intel and Samsung in total R&D spend last year with a $2.4bn expenditure on R&D, which only $400m lower than the R&D spend of Samsung which has three times the revenues of ST.
ST's R&D spend to revenues ratio of 24% is second only to Broadcom's ratio of 28%.
In absolute spend terms, Intel has the highest at $8.4bn, followed by Samsung on $2.8bn and ST on $2.4bn.
After them come: Renesas ($2.1bn); Qualcomm, Toshiba and Broadcom (each on around $2bn), TI ($1.7bn), AMD ($1.5bn) and TSMC ($1.2bn).
In terms of R&D-to-sales ration, Broadcom was top at 28%, followed by ST on 24%, AMD on 22%, Qualcomm on 21%, Renesas on 17%, Toshiba on 16%, TI on 13%, and Samsung and TSMC both on 8%.
Worldwide spending by on R&D by semiconductor companies is expected to grow 10% in 2012 to $53.4bn compared to $48.7bn set in 2011.
The increase will lift R&D spending by chip companies to 16.2% of total semiconductor sales in 2012, which are now forecast to rise 3% to $329.8bn from revenues of $321.4bn in 2011.
A dozen semiconductor companies spent more than $1.0 billion each on R&D in 2011 for the first time ever.
Intel's R&D expenditures accounted for 32% of the top-10 spending and about 17% of total R&D expenses at all semiconductor companies worldwide -- counting integrated device manufacturers (IDMs), fabless suppliers, and foundries.
Intel's 27% increase in R&D expenditures was the largest among companies spending $1bn or more on R&D last year. Fifth-ranked Qualcomm, the industry's largest fabless semiconductor supplier, increased its R&D spending by 25% in 2011, while TSMC grew R&D spend by 23%.
For more than three decades, R&D spending as a percentage of total semiconductor sales has zigzagged higher due to increasing costs in developing more complex IC designs and the creation of next-generation process technologies for large-diameter wafers (currently 300mm but heading toward 450mm later this decade).
R&D spending as a percent of semiconductor sales by chip companies was typically 7-8% in the late 1970s and early 1980s. R&D-to-sales ratios grew to 10-12% of revenues by the early 1990s and then jumped to over 15% during the last decade, reaching a record 17.5% in 2008.
US companies accounted for 57% of worldwide semiconductor R&D spending in 2011, followed by suppliers based in Japan, 17%; Europe, 10%; Taiwan, 8%; South Korea, 7%; and mainland China, 1%.
IDMs accounted for about 66% of R&D spending by semiconductor companies in 2011, while fabless suppliers represented 29%, and pure-play foundries made up the remaining 5% of the total.
TSMC, which entered the top-10 R&D ranking in 2010 for the first time ever, increased its R&D spending by 23%, nearly double the 12% average growth recorded by the top 10 last year.
With the influx of IDMs turning to foundry capacity and major fabless customers needing lead-edge CMOS processes, TSMC is spending more money on both new 300mm fabs and R&D.
In July 2012, TSMC chief executive Morris Chang noted that his company's 2012 R&D budget is now double the amount spent in 2009 (which was $656m), in addition to raising capital expenditures 13% to an all-time high of $8.25bn compared to $7.33bn in 2011.
TSMC's R&D-to-sales ratio stood slightly above 8% in 1H12 versus 7.9% in 2011, 5.1% in 2005 and 3.1% in 2000.