This post was written by Keith Dawson for UBM Tech’s community Web site All LED Lighting, sponsored by Philips Lumileds. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the All LED Lighting site may go dark at any time. This material is Copyright 2013-2015 by UBM Americas.


The LED Patent Landscape

Philips and Cree by one criterion hold the highest-quality LED patent portfolios, while Samsung and LG have the raw numbers.

Intellectual property consultancy iRunway has issued a report surveying the ground of patents held by the top IP players in the LED domain, with an emphasis on lighting. The PDF is freely downloadable.

The majority of the 22,262 patents that iRunway identified were filed within the last five or ten years. While the report breaks down the issued patents to three levels of categories, we will be looking at overall numbers. The important distinction we'll maintain is that between the total number of patents a company holds, and the number of "seminal" patents.

Company Number of "seminal" LED patents Share of "seminal" patents Total number of LED patents Total share of LED patents
Philips 120 6.90% 599 2.64%
Samsung 69 3.97% 1369 6.04%
LG 58 3.34% 737 3.25%
Cree 40 2.30% 264 1.16%
Osram 28 1.61% 321 1.42%
GE 26 1.50% 328 1.45%
Panasonic 18 1.04% 290 1.28%
Sony 17 0.98% 261 1.15%
Hon Hai 16 0.92% 209 0.92%
Seiko 12 0.69% 262 1.16%
Kodak 10 0.58% 285 1.26%
Sharp 9 0.52% 258 1.14%
Hitachi 9 0.52% 224 0.99%
Semicon Energy 5 0.29% 203 0.90%
AU Optronics 4 0.23% 249 1.10%
totals 441 25.39% 5859 25.86%

The table lists these overall numbers. The top 15 patent-holding organizations account for over 25% of all patents issued for LED technology and applications.

Seminal patents
Samsung and LG lead in total numbers of patents, but many of these are in areas touching on display and backlighting, not general lighting. Both of these consumer electronics giants turned their attention to lighting only in the last few years. Lately Samsung has been granted around 100 patents per year. Many of Philips's patents come by way of Lumileds (sponsor of this site), whose roots go back four decades under Hewlett Packard. Cree began patenting LED technology in the late 1980s.

The figure below lists the top 10 companies according to proportion of seminal patents to the overall portfolio. Cree and Philips come out on top by this metric. Two other big players, GE and Osram, have weaker positions.

Percentage of seminal patents in the portfolio of each company.
(Source: iRunway analysis based on patent data from USPTO)

A table on page 21 of the iRunway report summarizes who has been suing whom in the LED domain since 2011. Osram and Philips lead the roster, both as plaintiff and as defendant, being involved in 10 and 9 lawsuits respectively. On average the six companies -- Cree, GE, LG, Osram, Philips, and Samsung -- have been embroiled in six court challenges each.

Considering all this activity and the considerable number of licensing and cross-licensing deals that have resulted from earlier struggles iRunway concludes, "By all appearances, the LED industry's patenting practices have matured even before the technology itself has."

— Keith Dawson Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page, Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting