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Knowmade releases SiC patent analysis report


Vertically-integrated innovation strategy combined with global patenting helps overcome the high entry barrier in SiC industry

The SIC power device market is growing fast, driven by the adoption of SiC technology in electric vehicle (EV) applications. The SiC power device market revenues exceeded 1 $B in 2021 and were earned by companies mainly located in Europe (STMicroelectronics, Infineon), in the US (Wolfspeed, onsemi) and in Japan (Rohm Semiconductor, Mitsubishi Electric, Fuji Electric).

Yole Développement recently forecasted a multi-billion dollar SiC power device market for the next years, exceeding 6 $B in 2027 with an estimated CAGR of 34 percent in 2021-2027.

But the entry barrier in SiC wafer business is remarkably high, as attested by thelimited number of companies currently able to mass produce large-area and high quality SiC wafers to power device makers, so that they can comply with the stringent device requirements expected from the EV industry.

Knowmade is releasing a new SiC intellectual property (IP) report which aims to provide a comprehensive view of the power SiC patent landscape along the whole value chain, from bulk SiC and epitaxial SiC substrate to SiC devices, SiC modules and SiC circuits.

“Patent landscape analysis is a powerful tool to identify new players in emerging industries, way before they enter the market, while providing a better understanding of their expertise and know-how in a specific technology. Overall, the patenting activity (patent filings) reflects the level of R&D investment made by a country or a player in a specific technology, while providing a hint about the technology readiness level reached by the main IP players”, says Rémi Comyn,Technology and Patent Analyst Compound Semiconductors and Electronics at Knowmade. “What’s more, the technology coverage along the value chain and the geographical coverage of the patent portfolios are narrowly related to the business strategy of IP players”, adds Comyn.

Although historical IP players (Wolfspeed, SiCrystal, II-VI) keeps filing new patents, indicating a continuous improvement of their technology, Sumitomo Electric and Showa Denko took the IP leadership in the SiC substrate patent landscape.

Knowmade's patent analysis identifies numerous established IP players in the bulk SiC patent landscape, having the expertise and know-how to join in or spin off new companies in the SiC wafer business, just like SKC establishing Senic in 2021. Especially in China, there are many IP players engaged in SiC substrate R&D, and some of them are now stand-out players in the bulk SiC patent landscape (SICC, Synlight Crystal, TankeBlue, San’an).

Knowmade also identifies the main companies engaged in the development of disruptive technologies addressing the cost and availability issues of SiC wafers (Soitec, Toyota Tsusho / Kwansei Gakuin University, Sumitomo Metal Mining / Sicoxs, Infineon / Siltectra, etc.).

While numerous companies are focusing on building a vertically-integrated supply chain to secure their SiC business in the long term, few of them have developed strong patent portfolios all along the SiC value chain, the exceptions being Toyota and Denso in Japan.

Many companies may have not anticipated Europe or China as key markets for their power SiC business, and need to strengthen their IP position in these geographic areas. Therefore, most leading companies need to combine internal innovation capabilities with external innovation sources, for instance through M&A operations (e.g., onsemi / GTAT, ST / Norstel, Wolfspeed / APEI, Danfoss / Semikron), licensing agreements (e.g., II-VI / GE) or IP collaborations (e.g., Toyota / Denso, Audi / ABB), to accelerate the deployment of their SiC technology.

“What’s more, a global innovation strategy is not only important in building vertically-integrated manufacturing lines, thereby cutting supplier margins and securing the supply chain internally; it also enables players to not be limited in their development by technological and cost barriers at different levels of the supply chain, from material optimisation to module integration”, notes Comyn. “Thus, established players holding key patents at all stages of the supply chain can expect a long-term competitive advantage in the market, while newcomers are facing particularly high barriers to entry in the SiC industry”, says Comyn. In this regard, the SiC patent landscape report describes the IP strategy of main players to enhance their access to critical technologies all along the SiC value chain.

In this SiC patent landscape report, Knowmade has focused its investigations on Chinese players shaping the emerging SiC supply chain in China. Chinese players are accelerating their patenting activity to support the development of SiC technology, and more importantly to support the emergence of a complete domestic supply chain and secure their power semiconductor product lines.

Chinese patent applicants cover the whole supply chain, including relatively well-established IP players on each segment, with a great diversity of players (academic, industrial, foundry, IDM, integrator, pure player, etc.) and a dense network of IP collaborations and IP transfers. As a result, the technological gap with foreign suppliers is expected to narrow in most segments of the supply chain. The breakdown of Chinese applicants’ patent portfolios along the power SiC supply chain (see below) demonstrates that numerous Chinese companies are now present – in terms of IP – in each segment of the supply chain. Comyn recently published an article focusing on the Chinese SiC patent landscape.

A significant part of this SiC IP report is dedicated to the in-depth analysis of the SiC patent portfolio owned by the top 10 IP players and top 6 power device market players: Mitsubishi Electric, Sumitomo Electric, Infineon, Rohm, Toyota/Denso, Wolfspeed, Fuji Electric, Hitachi, Toshiba, STMicroelectronics, onsemi, Panasonic. Knowmade’s IP analysts provide an overview of the patent portfolio (IP dynamics, enforceability, protected countries, technology), highlighting player’s IP strategy, its strength and its potential for reinforcement. The recent patenting activity of the player is then reviewed in light of recent announcements related to SiC and related challenges.

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