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Yole: Number of GaN-on-silicon players on the up

Market analyst Yole Développement says that GaN-on-silicon IP is advanced enough for mass production to commence
“GaN-on-silicon technology appeared naturally as an alternative to GaN-on-sapphire, the main stream technology for LED applications. Today, despite potential cost benefits, the mass adoption of GaN-on-silicon technology for LED applications remains unclear,” explains Hong Lin, Technology & Market Analyst, Compound Semiconductors & Power Electronics at Yole Développement.

GaN-on-silicon is now entering production. Under this context, what is the patent situation?

KnowMade and Yole Développement decided to collaborate and combine their expertise to perform a patent analysis dedicated to the GaN-on-silicon substrate market. Their findings are reported in the publication, "GaN on Silicon Substrate Patent Investigation".

Most major LED makers have a patenting activity related to GaN-on-silicon technology, but so far, few have made it the core of their strategy and technology roadmap. Contrary to the LED industry, Yole  and KnowMade expect GaN-on-silicon to be widely adopted by power electronics and RF applications because of its lower cost and CMOS compatibility.

The growth of GaN-on-silicon substrates was first reported in 1971 in the paper, "Gallium Nitride Films," by T. L. Chu in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society and since the early 1990s more and more academics and industrials have been involved in developing this technology.

GaN-on-silicon technology is now poised for a list of technical challenges.

The high lattice mismatch between GaN and silicon results in a high defect density in epitaxial layers (dislocations). The high thermal expansion coefficient (TCE) mismatch between GaN and silicon leads to a large tensile stress during cooling from the growth temperature to room temperature. The tensile stress causes film cracking and a concave bending of the wafer (warpage). These factors combine to make both dislocation density and crack/warpage reduction a challenging task.

In the "GaN-On Si Substrate Patent Investigation" report, Yole and KnowMade cover patents published worldwide up to December, 2013.

”The patents addressing the above mentioned challenges have been selected, and an in-depth analysis of patent holders and corresponding patented technologies is provided. This report does not include patents related to active layers or GaN-based devices”, explains Nicolas Baron, CEO & Co-founder, KnowMade.

Fundamental patents describing a GaN-based compound semiconductor grown on a silicon substrate were filed before the 1990s with the most significant assigned to TDK and Fujitsu. In the early 1990s, Toyoda Gosei and the University of Nagoya filed the first concepts of a buffer layer for improving the crystallinity of GaN.

Those fundamental patents have been followed by an ever increasing number of applications since 1995 as more companies competed in GaN-on-silicon technology to meet the technological challenges, the market demand and to lower manufacturing costs.

Currently, the patented technologies reflect the significant improvements that have been made on key material issues such as dislocation density reduction and stress management for preventing cracks and warpage of the wafer. According to Yole's and KnowMade's analysis, GaN-on-silicon IP is mature enough to initiate mass production.

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