LEDs are set to take the world by storm. According to a recent study headed by Robert Weissbourd of the University of Chicago, LEDs will capture “60 percent of the market globally in the next ten years” due to the economic benefits of LEDs. Chairman Lee of Epistar Corp., the world’s top manufacturer of blue LED chips, agrees. Lee expects 2012 to be a growth year for LEDs due to improved luminosity and sharply reduced costs of current LEDs.
LED lighting solutions are also making inroads into the developing world. With advances in LED efficiency, villagers in Mwiki, Kenya and elsewhere can now afford to generate bright LED lighting, powered by solar panels that produce only a couple of watts of power.
Given the wide array of opportunities in the LED space and the huge size of the worldwide lighting market, competition is fierce. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the LED patent space. Now, more than ever, LED giants are using their strong patent portfolios to create market barriers and command market share. Though a cross-license exists for basic LED chip technology, companies still have plenty of room for technological innovation and competition surrounding LED dimmers, LED lamp designs, LED tubes to replace fluorescent tubes, remote phosphor innovations, and new substrate technologies.
Just one look at the flourishing LED patent space is enough to quell most LED disbelievers. This past week, over 100 US and WIPO patent applications were published on a single day (January 26th). These patents range from Lunavation’s LED dimming devices (US20120019161A1) to Sharp’s substrate production methods (WO2012011258A1) to Konica Minolta’s new phosphor materials (US20120018761A1).
Last year’s LED patent litigation minefield will not be cleaned up anytime soon. The dispute between Osram, Samsung and LG Electronics continues to rage, threatening to stop sales of BMW and Audi in South Korea; both carmakers use Osram LED products.
Philips Electronics and Seoul Semiconductor were able to make peace, and in December ended a two-way infringement suit that began in May 4, 2011. The terms of the settlement are confidential, though we do know that the six LED and semiconductor patents in dispute include patents related to Seoul Semiconductor’s highly successful Acriche line of AC-driven LED solutions.
Given the high-stakes LED legal battles and attractive market conditions, what is the forecast for 2012?
- Sylvania, Philips, and GE, big US lighting companies, will no longer place LEDs on the back-burner, and will instead begin to market LED lights aggressively.
- Large LED companies will continue to strengthen their patent holdings, just as they did the past year, and the Osram, Samsung, and LG Electronics patent battle will expand to other companies in 2012.
- Small players will flourish in the niche technology areas surrounding LED drivers and phosphor materials, but will be edged out of LED TV backlight displays.
- Watch out for litigation among the following top players (and Nichia) in the patenting space (see chart below):
IP Checkups will be at the Strategies In Light LED industry conference from February 7-9. Check out our exhibit or contact us today for a free demo of our CleanTech PatentEdge LED category and our Philips LED patent portfolio database.