If we did not know before, now we are all aware: microLEDs for display applications is a very hot topic and Apple is strongly commited to the development of its own technology. Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show 2018 (1) and now Bloomberg, the high tech planet is revolving around microLED technologies. Indeed, last week, the financial news media giant published an article highlighting microLED which generated substantial interest and debate from Wall Street . According to Mark Gurman from Bloomberg (2), despite some ups and downs since it acquired the microLED start up Luxvue in 2014, Apple is still committed to the technology and hoping to begin mass production within the next few years.
The recent report, “MicroLED Displays: Intellectual Property Landscape” released by Yole Développement (Yole) and its partner, Knowmade beginning of 2018, confirms substantial microLED IP development has been underway at Apple. In this patent landscape analysis, Apple ranks first in term of the size, strength and depth of its portfolio with more than 60 patent families.
“Apple has been working on IP development to master all key elements of a new microLED display technology”, asserts Dr. Eric Virey, Technology & Market Analyst from Yole. And he adds “If successful, the expectation is that they will rapidly move on to establish a supply chain, possibly handling some aspects of design and manufacturing internally”
Apple’s portfolio covers many thrust areas and shows a strong commitment to tackle all the major technology bottlenecks that have so far prevented the technology from reaching the market.
The bulk of the development effort, however, is focused on transfer, assembly and interconnects, with more than 40 patents. The emphasis is on the company’s MEMS-based microchip transfer technology that was at the core of Luxvue effort.
Other key patents cover multiple aspects of microLED technologies such as improving the efficiency of microLED chips, another challenge that has been vexing companies trying to leverage the large efficiency gains that microLED display could offers. Color conversion, light management, pixel and display architectures, testing, and integration of sensors are other key aspects which Apple is addressing in its portfolio.
“A detailed analysis of Apple’s portfolio is a good indication of its technology advancement”, explains Dr. Nicolas Baron, CEO & Founder of Knowmade, partner of Yole.“Because of its strong and broad patent portfolio, Apple is showing a clear positioning in this domain and announces its strategy to become a leader in this up and coming industry”.
However, it’s not enough to guaranty exclusivity and full freedom of exploitation.. While the bulk of the microLED display research effort started around 2010, digging deeper into the global microLED IP landscape reveals some important patents filed by companies like Sony, Sharp and various research organizations all the way back to the early 2000’s.
Enabling microLED displays requires bringing together three major levels of expertise: LED, transistor backplanes (glass or Si-CMOS based) and chip transfer. The supply chain is complex and lengthy compared to that of traditional displays. Each process is critical and managing every aspect effectively will be challenging. No one company appears today positioned to execute across these multiple technologies and be able to vertically integrate all of the components. Today the IP landscape reflects those challenges through the variety of players involved. Only a few companies including Apple, have a broad microLED IP portfolio, but enough have patents on key technology bricks to predict that complex licensing and legal battles will arise if and when microLED displays enter volume manufacturing.
MicroLED technology could be the holy grail of display companies. Therefore, it could represent an opportunity to strongly differentiate from the crowded LCD and soon-to-be-crowded OLED display industries. Recent investments by Facebook, Sharp/Foxconn, Google, Intel and Samsung confirm the growing interest and point toward a challenging but exciting future for microLEDs.
“It remains to be seen who will be first to market”, asks Dr. Eric Virey from Yole. “With more than 120 companies involved and the efforts accelerating at all major companies, there is no doubt that the buzz will keep increasing and the industry landscape evolve at an accelerating pace.”
Yole Group of Companies including Yole and Knowmade keeps its fingers on the pulse of this promising technology. The full article is available on i-micronews.com.
And the Group will keep delivering up to date analysis. Dr Virey and Pars Mukish from Yole is also part of the key microLEDs conferences all year long. Next presentations will take place during the following conferences:
CS International Conference (April 10-11, Brussels, Belgium)
• “Revolutionising displays with MicroLEDs” on April 11 at 9:20AM
Pars Mukish, Business Unit Manager, Solid State Lighting & Displays
Display Week (May 21-25 - Los Angeles, CA, USA):
• “Economic Health of the Display Supply Chain/Where Is the Growth and Profits/Best Investment Outlook”on May 21 at 8:10AM
• “Status and Prospects of microLED Displays” on May 24 at 9:00AM
Dr. Eric Virey, Senior Technology & Market Analyst, MicroLED