MicroLEDs: Yole Report Reveals Patent Landscape
To date 1,500 patents relevant to the microLED display field have been filed by 125 companies and organisations
At the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, 2018, microLED-type technologies were much in evidence. 'The Wall', a 146inch microLED TV powered by Samsung, was probably the most impressive announcement. The Korea-based LED maker Lumens also showed a 139 inch display, with smaller 0.8 mm pitch.
In both cases, technology developed by these leaders is not strictly microLED related but confirms the attractiveness of microLEDs solutions. “Initial success in smartwatches could accelerate technology and supply chain maturation, making microLED competitive against OLED in high end TVs, tablets and laptops”, explains Yole Développement's (Yole) analyst, Eric Virey who attended the show. “In Yole's most optimistic scenario, the market for microLED displays could reach up to 330 million units by 2025.”
The microLED display sector has been analysed by Yole and KnowMade, both parts of Yole Group of Companies, including a patent analysis report titled: Microled Displays: Intellectual Property Landscape.
As of today close to 1,500 patents relevant to the microLED display field have been filed by 125 companies and organisations. Among these are multiple startups, display makers, OEMs , semiconductor companies, LED makers, and research institutions.
“The overall corpus is relatively young, with an average age of 3.2 years across all families”, says Nicolas Baron, CEO & Founder, KnowMade.
The first patents were filed in 2000 - 2001, but the bulk of the activity started after 2012. Thus, only a minority of patents have been granted so far.
Pioneers include Sony, Sharp, MIT, and others, although the bulk of the initial developments were conducted by a variety of research institutions including Kansas State University, University of Hong Kong, Strathclyde University & Tyndall Institute (which spun-off mLED, InfiniLED, and X-Celeprint), University of Illinois, and startup companies like Luxvue and, later on, Playnitride and Mikro Mesa.
Yole's study also reveals a number of companies that have not yet been identified as players in the microLED display field.
Moreover, this study confirms the commitment of many more companies, which are not typically associated with display technology. Intel and Goertek are part of them. On the flip side, various companies known to be active in the field (i.e. Huawei) have yet to see any of their patent in the field published.
Overall, the activity is still led mostly by startups (including those such as Luxvue or eLux) acquired by larger organization) and research institutions. With the exception of Sharp and Sony, display makers and LED makers are relative latecomers. Many companies started ramping up their microLED research and development activities after Apple showed faith in microLED with its acquisition of Luxvue.
As of December 2017, Apple appears to have the most complete IP portfolio, covering almost all key technology nodes. However, many of its patents pertain to the technological ecosystem developed around the company's MEMS transfer technology. Other companies like Sony, with a smaller portfolio but which had a head start, might own more fundamental design patents with strong blocking power.