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 Displays – Intellectual Property Status & Landscape 2020” shows that 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 microprinting transfer and microLED display architecture, X-Celeprint is one of the best known names in the microLED industry. In 2019, the company spun-off X Display, a new entity focused exclusively on display applications. Last month, the company completed its first round of funding including, among others, one of the leading digital signage company, Daktronics.
Yole‘s display analysts, Eric Virey and Zine Bouhamri, asked Chris Bower and Matt Meitl, co-founders of X Display, questions about the company’s technology, strategy and the prospects for microLED displays. Discover below the details of their discussion.
Yole Développement (YD): Could you please introduce yourselves and X Display?
X Display Company (XDC): Chris Bower and Matt Meitl are the co-founders of X Display Company (XDC). Chris is the CTO and Matt is the VP of Displays. XDC is a company formed from X-Celeprint in 2019 to focus on serving the display industry. We teamed up with new investors in the first quarter of 2020, and our company is about 24 people strong. We’re planning to grow this year.
YD: Could you elaborate on X Display’s core expertise, market focus and business model? What role and positioning in the supply chain are you anticipating? Will you be focused on licensing technologies and/or involved in volume manufacturing? If yes, at which level of the supply chain?
XDC: We’re approaching two decades of experience in mass transfer, specifically with PolyDiMethyl Siloxane (PDMS) stamps. It’s the foundation of our expertise, and during those years we’ve added a diverse set of capabilities in what it takes to make transferrable devices and displays from them. Our business model is to enable the display industry to the fullest and broadest extent that we can and then to supply it with components like microLEDs, microICs, and PixelEngines. It starts with licensing, and then we continue our work developing and supplying components to our customers through a fabless semiconductor model. We think that model can serve all segments of the display market, but we’ll have an early focus on large, TV-like displays.
YD: How does X Display distinguish itself from X-Celeprint? Will X-Celeprint continue as an independent company with a different focus and business model? Does X Display have access to the full X-Celeprint technology portfolio?
XDC: XDC and X-Celeprint became separate companies last year. XDC has full, exclusive access to the technology as it applies to displays, and X-Celeprint has access to it in the other fields. X-Celeprint will continue as before, licensing and serving non-display fields in which there are some exciting applications for mass transfer and heterogenous integration.
YD: X Display recently completed its series A funding round, with LED Videowall and signage company Daktronics among the investors. Could you provide more information on this funding round, the nature of your investors and how they will impact the company’s strategy, technology and product roadmaps?
XDC: XDC is fortunate to have Daktronics and several global strategic partners participating as investors and early adopters of our technology. All parties are excited to continue progressing our technology and commercialization roadmap.
YD: What are X Display’s strengths and key elements of differentiation in the microLED industry?
XDC: We have a long history in mass transfer, so we’ve wrestled for some time with the interdependencies between micron-scale devices, the systems made using those devices, and the transfer process itself. We’ve got some good solutions and some good priority dates for them.
YD: X Display and X-Celeprint are mostly known for their microprinting assembly process. But over the years, X-Celeprint has developed an impressive intellectual property portfolio covering not only transfer and assembly but also display architecture and driving. Could you provide some metrics regarding your patent portfolio, for example number of patents pending or granted? Where do you see your IP core strength?
XDC: Yes, a lot of energy and investment has gone into building the IP portfolio. At the end of January, our worldwide patent portfolio included 335 granted patents, with another 149 pending. Our IP strategy has been to give our partners and licensees a complete technology solution for microLED displays and a broad technology space for their own innovations. There is one theme in our portfolio that focuses on how to make micro-assembly processes as practical as possible.
YD: X-Celeprint also presented some impressive microLED display prototypes over the last couple of years. What were the enabling technologies for those prototypes? What are the next steps in terms of improving performance?
XDC: We have seen a very clear path to accomplishing the kinds of microLED displays that the industry needs, and after many discussions and debates about competing approaches, we’ve decided that the most convincing stance we can take is to prove our approach by making displays ourselves. We built micron-scale LEDs, we designed discrete, pixel-level ICs, and we relied fully on PDMS stamp mass transfer. The displays we have shown result from hard work and a lot of trial and error and achieving visually stunning prototypes is certainly one of the most rewarding aspects of our work. This year, our licensees and partners will start to show bigger and better displays than we’re able to make by ourselves. You’ll see us focus more and more on application-specific designs and working with the supply chain to make the microLED display ecosystem more mature. We’ll continue to make displays, too.
YD: Our microLED IP 2020 study shows that transfer and chip design are still the major thrust areas for the industry. Other topics such as light extraction and shaping, driving and yield management are gaining ground. Beside transfer and chip design, where do you see the most significant roadblocks? How is X Display tackling those challenges?
XDC: We think the existing technology foundations are strong right now and there’s more need for practicing the subject of the IP than there is for more invention. We see there is a lot of room for improvement in microLED efficiency, and we see strong efforts and good progress on that front. TFT technology for microLED is another topic that seems full of challenge. Yield management is another, and we are actively developing innovations aimed at addressing these challenges.
YD: In the past, X-Celeprint has collaborated with various display or LED companies. For example it licensed some of its technology to Osram, and more recently showed prototypes in collaboration with Taiwan-based chip maker Lextar, a subsidiary of AUO. Could you elaborate on X Display’s collaborations and partnerships?
XDC: We are very fortunate to work with some of the best companies in the industry. Our business success absolutely relies on it—without those partnerships thriving, there is no XDC story worth telling. We are looking forward to deepening each of our existing relationships and establishing new ones.
YD: As a whole, the microLED industry is progressing at a rapid pace but many challenges remain. When do you expect to see the first microLED consumer products? How do you expect the technology to propagate in terms of applications and in which timeframe? Would it be wearable, then TV, then automotive?
XDC: We think that all displays are indeed challenging technologically and economically, and they will probably continue to be so. Nevertheless, consumer products with microLED displays can be available very soon. Maybe in 2020, but we’re not sure. Signage and wearable can happen very soon. Backlights can happen very soon. AR/VR can happen soon. Automotive may take a little while, and laptop, tablet and mobile are extra challenging.
YD: What are the next steps and roadmap for X Display?
XDC: We’ll be busy this year deepening the partnerships we mentioned earlier and supporting them in their own display product roadmaps. We’ll continue to pursue economic viability in more and more display applications by miniaturizing microLEDs and microICs. We’re also excited to complete the development of the XDC PixelEngine. It’s a device that incorporates all the active components of a pixel and prepares them for delivery to the display in a single mass transfer operation. It facilitates repair too.
YD: Has your activity been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic so far?
XDC: We’ve been fortunate in that way also, that our small company has been able to stay as productive as ever in the midst of the pandemic. We owe it to a great team, a great network of partners, and to flat-panel displays that help us work remotely. We’re working hard to make them better.
YD: Any additional thoughts or comments?
XDC: Thanks to Eric, Zine, and Yole for inviting us to discuss our business, and for continuing to support the whole microLED display movement. Even in the midst of the turmoil created by the pandemic, we sense a great deal of momentum and excitement about microLED displays.
Dr. Christopher (Chris) A. Bower is the Chief Technology Officer and co-founder of X Display Company (XDC). Before joining XDC, he was the Chief Technology Officer at X-Celeprint Limited, a company founded to develop and commercialize advanced micro assembly technologies. He was formerly a Technical Manager at Semprius, Inc., where he led the team responsible for micro-transfer-printing and wafer-level-packaging of advanced microscale solar cells. His interests include three-dimensional integration of integrated circuits, heterogeneous integration of compound semiconductors onto non-native substrates and the fabrication of low-cost, large-format electronics using novel assembly methods. He is author on over one hundred and twenty scientific publications and has filed over one hundred and fifty patents.
Dr. Matthew Meitl is a materials expert and an original inventor of the XDC technology. He is skilled in leading multi-company, cross-technology integration projects with accomplishments in optoelectronics, photovoltaics, LEDs, and wearable electronics. Prior to joining XDC, he worked as a technical manager at Semprius, as the leader of display projects at X-Celeprint, and as the CEO of Wearifi. He currently serves as the Vice President, Displays at XDC. Matt is passionate about developing the highly-capable, highly-motivated team that will shape the future of displays.
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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