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Yole: LED Phosphor IP Is Shaping The Industry

The market for phosphors and some of the critical IP are currently dominated by Mitsubishi and Denka, which have acquired nitrides and oxynitrides licenses from NIMS. But other players include Intematix, Beijing Yuji and Dow Electronics
Phosphor related intellectual property has been and remains a major driving force with strong impact on the shape of the LED industry.


The first commercial GaN-based blue LEDs were produced in Japan in the mid 90’s after researchers Shuji Nakamura at Nichia and Professor Akasaki at Nagoya University (IP assigned to Toyoda Gosei) succeeded in removing some of the major remaining roadblocks associated with this technology (p-doping, epitaxy quality…).


Quickly leveraging on this success, some fundamental patents describing the use of a blue LED combined with a phosphor to produce white LEDs were filed by Nichia, Osram, ATMI and others.


Those fundamental patents were rapidly followed by a fast growing number of applications through 2005 as an increasing number of companies started to compete in the LED market and new applications in cell phone, laptop and LCD TV display, and general lighting were being addressed.


Phosphor IP is a major force in the LED industry. With more than 40 litigation cases, it is also used as leverage by companies which have negotiated close to 70 licensing and supply agreements to date.


It can also be argued that in the first half of the 2000 decade, the strict enforcement and lack of license grants for some fundamental IP related to the design and manufacturing of white LEDs might also have slowed down the progress of the industry by preventing more efficient competition that would allow prices to decrease.





Key players


Hundreds of companies are involved in LED phosphor IP. Most of the major LED players are present in the list of the top patent assignees. But independent phosphor manufacturers like Intematix or Mitsubishi that are offering their phosphors on the open market are also emerging as major forces in the IP landscape.


Leading Taiwan based packagers are notably absent from Yole's ranking. This weak position explains the large number of litigations and one way, royalty or supply based license agreements involving those companies.


Based on this portfolio analysis as well as on their litigation and licensing history, Yole identified 15 major players that are profiled in this report.





Composition focus shifting from yellow to red and green phosphors


With high performing silicates now widely available as a YAG substitutes for yellow emission, the focus on new composition development and patent protection has shifted toward red and green converters.


The market for those new phosphors and some of the most critical IP are currently dominated by Mitsubishi and Denka, which have acquired nitrides and oxynitrides licenses from NIMS.


However, many other players are also developing nitride and oxynitride compositions, including Intematix, Beijing Yuji and Lightscape (now dow electronic materials). New material families are also considered as promising phosphors including Tungstate and Molybdates as well as Fluorides championed by GE.


Following recent progress in thermal stability and manufacturability, quantum dot are also finally emerging as a credible option. Because of their narrow emission bands, LCD display is the most promising application for the technology. In lighting, the use of red QD in combination with standard phosphor could emerge in remote phosphor applications.







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