Global LED Industry Second Patent War02-03-2015
1. LED industry enters patent wars
One of the biggest topics ues in the global LED industry in 2014 was patent disputes between famous major LED players and newcomers. LED patent litigations filed in U.S. from 2014 to early 2015 show changeable patent litigations in the industry, in contrast to the peaceful scene in recent years.
A typical example would be the patent suit filed by Japanese LED manufacturer Nichia against Everlight of Taiwan in U.S. courts in 2012, which is still in progress in 2015. The pending case is still awaiting juried trial in the first half of this year. Another case was Korean LED manufacturer Seoul Semiconductor patent lawsuits against two North Amercian electric appliance companies in U.S. in July 2014, the range of patent infringements involved seven patents covering LED epiwafer, fab, packaging, lens and backlight system processes.
In November 2014, U.S. LED manufacturer Cree filed patent lawsuits against Taiwanese LED manufacturers Harvatek and Kingbright, through the Western District Court of Wisconsin, U.S. The company filed another patent litigation lawsuit through the same court against Taiwanese LED manufacturer Unity Opto and Taiwanese LED lights manufacturer Feit Electric in January 2015, while requesting United States International Trade Commission to prohibit imports of patent infringed products.
What these litigations share in common is they are not necessarily between large companies, but are often lawsuits launched by major LED manufacturers against late comers, who have limited patent portfolio.
2. Changing patent litigation characteristics
Recent global patent litigations are targeting new LED manufacturers that have expanded business without developing a sufficient patent portfolio. Companies that suffered from various patent disputes in the last few years in the LED industry such as Seoul Semiconductor, Nichia, Philips, Osram, and Cree have already established cross-license agreements or strategic tie-ups, protecting them from potential patent disputes.
For this reason, major LED companies are directly aiming patent lawsuits against companies that have mass-produced cheap copies of their products, and have failed to develop their own patent portfolio. Many Chinese and Taiwanese companies have faced more and more lawsuits recently.
Patent litigation methods have also become more aggressive in order to strongly delay and warn companies that may have crossed the bottomline. Cree filed its patent lawsuit request to United States International Trade Commission against lamp products that used unpatented LED components, and even requested banning these product imports. Nowadays, the target of patent litigation has expanded from directly targeting LED components suppliers, such as LED chips and packages to include LED end products, such as TV, smartphone, tablets, PC, monitors and others that might use unpatented LED lights components. In other words, the manufacturers of LED end products must pay more attentions to protocols and related standards to ensure component suppliers have secured required patents.
Future outlook on LED industry patent disputes
The LED market is looking at a compound annual growth rate of 15% to reach 100 trillion won (US $91.46 billion) by 2020. Globalization has aroused more competitions in the LED industry, making it difficult for a single manufacturer to become an industry leader. As a result, large LED companies will continue to put their aggressive sanctions on patent infringements. Chinese and Taiwanese LED manufacturers that have quickly expanded their LED business rely on Chinese market consumption, and do not have strong patent portfolio. When these companies try to penetrate into oversea markets, it can be estimated that global LED companies will launch a full range of patent infringement attacks against them.
"The LED industry is flooded with companies all over the world, but it will be restructured in a manner similar to the memory semiconductor market in a few years, where only a few major LED companies with strong patent portfolio and technology strengths will remain," a Korean official familiar with the LED industry said.