MicroLEDs are progressing on all fronts. Investments are increasing and many prototypes from large corporations and startups alike have been presented over the last 18 months. Yole Développement’s latest report, “MicroLED Intellectual Property Landscape”, shows that intellectual property (IP) activity has been growing exponentially over the last two years. There are now close to 5,500 patents filed by hundreds of companies and research organizations.
As a pioneer in MicroLED development, PlayNitride has already built a sizable IP portfolio in the field. The company has raised significant amounts of money from venture capitalists and strategic investors such as Samsung. It now has more than 300 employees and has presented various prototypes in collaboration with RiTDisplay, Tianma, and most recently AUO. PlayNitride is also known for supplying the MicroLED chips in Samsung’s high profile 75” MicroLED TVs presented at CES in 2019 and 2020.
Yole Développement (Yole) display analysts, Eric Virey and Zine Bouhamri talked with Falcon Liu, Marketing Director of PlayNitride, about the company’s technology, strategy and the prospects for MicroLED displays. Discover the details of their discussion below.
Yole Développement (YD): Could you please introduce yourself and PlayNitride?
Falcon Liu: My name is Falcon Liu, Marketing Director of PlayNitride. I am in charge of business development and market promotion. My company, PlayNitride, was founded in 2014, and is located in Hsinchu, Taiwan. We are the leading company for MicroLED display technology. Currently, we are running a mass production fab for MicroLEDs.
YD: What are PlayNitride’s strengths and key elements of differentiation in the MicroLED industry?
FL: PlayNitride’s core technologies include wafer epitaxy, MicroLED chip processes, mass transfer, and mass repair. With this complete ecosystem and know-how, we can build products and solve all challenges much faster and meet the real market requirements.
YD: You have presented some impressive prototypes through 2019 and early 2020. What were the enabling technologies for those prototypes?
FL: There are two major technologies to build a MicroLED display from PlayNitride. The first technology, named PixeLED®, builds a MicroLED display from our display grade MicroLED chips and a mass transfer process. Another technology named SMAR･Tech™ can quickly repair defect pixels. With these technologies, PlayNitride can build zero-defect MicroLED display panels.
YD: We estimate that PlayNitride has raised close to US$90M so far. One motivation for the last round of funding was to set up a dedicated MicroLED fab and pilot line. Can you provide some updates on the status of this fab?
FL: PlayNitride is running a mass production fab in Taiwan and started shipping to our customers from Q3 2019. We believe this is the world’s first dedicated MicroLED mass production line.
YD: PlayNitride’s MicroLED intellectual property portfolio has grown rapidly over the last two years. It has expanded beyond just chip design and transfer, into multiple important other key technology nodes. Could you provide some metrics and insights regarding your IP?
FL: At present, PlayNitride is among the top patent players in the MicroLED industry, with more than 350 patent applications, of which nearly half have been granted. We focus not only on microchip design but also on transfer technology. Nearly 70% of PlayNitride applications are concentrated here. Application filings for new structures and continuation applications are continuing to expand the protection scope. Patent applications of the forward-looking technology suitable for MicroLED displays are currently deployed in series. Furthermore, PlayNitride combines other intellectual property such as trademarks and trade secrets. We are building all aspects of competitive intellectual property.
YD: Our MicroLED IP 2020 study shows that transfer and chip design are still the major thrust areas for the industry as a whole, but other topics such as light extraction and shaping, driving and yield management are gaining ground. Besides transfer and chip design, where do you see the most significant roadblocks? How is PlayNitride tackling those challenges?
FL: To build a MicroLED display, mass transfer is the first challenge, since it is new technology for industry. We think there will be lots of different approaches, gradually converging to those that can reach low cost and high yield, which are the most important topics for mass production. To achieve these targets, PlayNitride makes display grade epiwafers, develops mass testing and mass inspection to define defect points, and uses SMAR･Tech™ to ensure we can have displays that meet market standards.
YD: The MicroLED intellectual property landscape is increasingly crowded and complex. Do you think the industry will need to mutualize some IP through cross licensing?
FL: It’s still early to discuss this question. MicroLED is an emerging technology, and we are not sure which solution will be the mainstream in the future. For PlayNitride, we are open to all possibilities, and cross licensing IP might be an option if needed.
YD: What role and positioning in the supply chain are you anticipating for PlayNitride? What is your business model? Will you be involved in volume manufacturing and if yes, at which level of the supply chain? Or will you mostly focus on developing and licensing enabling technologies?
FL: Currently, we are exploring different business models and don’t have a final answer for this question yet. For now, we are open for all kinds of collaborations to develop MicroLED displays.
YD: PlayNitride has multiple strategic investors such as Samsung and Epistar among others. You have also publically confirmed various partnerships such as with RiT Displays, Tianma and others. Can you elaborate on those partnerships and how they fit in your strategy and ecosystem?
FL: PlayNitride is focusing on MicroLED chip and transfer processes, so we need backplane suppliers and brands to work together to realize MicroLED displays in the market.
We have disclosed a partnership with RiT Displays for passive matrix displays, with Tianma for 7.56″ transparent display, and with AUO for 9.4″ flexible displays. Meanwhile, we also work with other partners for different projects.
YD: How do you think MicroLED will impact the LED and display supply chains? Will display makers turn into LED makers? Will LED makers turn into foundries and manufacture chips designed by their customers or third parties?
FL: LED and display makers will find better ways forward for their business. However, processes and concepts of LEDs and displays are very different. They might integrate some processes, but we think they will play different roles for MicroLED displays.
YD: When can we expect to see the first MicroLED consumer products? How do you expect the technology to propagate in term of applications and in which timeframe? Will it be wearable, then TV, then automotive?
FL: Samsung has announced its MicroLED TV series at CES and these probably will be the first products. Based on different product verification times, wearable devices might come out by the end of this year and automotive application will appear within 3-5 years.
YD: Which applications are PlayNitride targeting specifically? What are the next steps/roadmap for PlayNitride?
FL: PlayNitride collaborates with our partners in all kinds of different applications, such as wearable devices, mobile phones, laptops, monitors, automotive, TV, and signage. We especially promote the unique transparent feature of MicroLED displays, which could enable new display markets.
YD: Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted PlayNitride’s activities so far?
FL: Because of the good disease control in Taiwan, there is no direct impact for our production or daily operation. However, most overseas customers are staying at home, which could delay verification. This might impact the time to the market.
YD: Any additional thoughts or comments?
FL: We believe MicroLED will be the next generation display technology. We welcome more companies to join the ecosystem and realize MicroLED in all kinds of applications in the near future.
Falcon Liu is Marketing Director of PlayNitride, a company founded in 2014 that provides solutions for MicroLED technology for next generation displays. He oversees new business development, marketing, and emerging display applications.
Falcon received his B.S. degree in Physics from National Taiwan University and an M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University. He has worked as panel designer and product manager and in product planning and technical marketing in the display industry for more than 17 years. Prior to joining PlayNitride, he worked in AU Optronics, SiPix Technology, Samsung Taiwan, and Corning Taiwan.
Eric Virey, PhD, serves as a Principal Display Market and Technologies Analyst within the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Eric has spoken in more than 50 industry conferences over the last 10 years and has been interviewed or quoted in multiple media including: The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, Bloomberg, Financial Review, Forbes, Technology Review, etc.
Prior to joining Yole, Eric held R&D, engineering, manufacturing and marketing positions with Fortune 500 Company Saint-Gobain in France and the United States. Eric received a PhD in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble. He is based in Portland, OR.
As a Technology & Market Analyst, Displays, Zine Bouhamri, PhD is a member of the Photonics, Sensing & Display division at Yole Développement (Yole).
Zine manages the day to day production of technology & market reports, as well as custom consulting projects. He is also deeply involved in the business development of the Displays unit activities at Yole.
Previously, Zine was in charge of numerous R&D programs at Aledia. During more than three years, he developed strong technical expertise as well as a detailed understanding of the display industry.
Zine is author and co-author of several papers and patents.
Zine Bouhamri holds an Electronics Engineering Degree from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble (France), one from the Politecnico di Torino (Italy), and a Ph.D. in RF & Optoelectronics from Grenoble University (France).
MicroLED Displays – Intellectual Property Status & Landscape 2020
MicroLED intellectual property activity is growing exponentially both in terms of patents and topics. BOE has overtaken Apple, and China and traditional display makers are now in the lead.
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