The sword of Damocles in China's LED industry

In 2008, at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, the magical “picture scroll” color screen was produced by China Jinlixiang Technology Co., Ltd.;

In 2009, the 60th anniversary of the National Day military parade, the huge color screen on Tiananmen Square was from China Liard Electronic Technology Co., Ltd.;

In 2010, at the opening ceremony of the Shanghai World Expo, the 10,000-square-meter LED (Light Emitting Diode, hereinafter referred to as led) large screen was from China Ruituo Display Technology Co., Ltd....

Behind this seemingly infinitely beautiful enterprise hides the huge hidden dangers of the development of China's LED industry. The reporter found that at present, more than half of the technology and patents in the global LED field are occupied by a few large companies in developed countries such as the United States, Japan and Germany. Most of these patents are core technology patents, and it is difficult for domestic enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to find breakthroughs. In addition, these foreign companies have deployed patent networks around the world, especially China, as if they were hanging a sword of Damocles. In order to achieve long-term development, China's LED industry must break through the layers of these patents.

The status quo is developing rapidly, but the scale of the company is small and the industrial chain is incomplete.

As the world's most watched new generation of light source, LED is known as the most promising green lighting source in the 21st century due to its high brightness, low heat, long life, non-toxic, recyclable and other advantages. China's LED industry started in the 1970s. After nearly 40 years of development, it has formed 7 national semiconductor lighting engineering industrialization bases in Shanghai, Dalian, Nanchang, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Yangzhou and Shijiazhuang. The products are widely used in landscape lighting. And in the field of general lighting, China has become the world's largest producer of lighting appliances and the second largest exporter of lighting appliances.

However, a statistical report of LED industry research institute - LED inside China (LED inside) shows that as of the end of 2009, there are more than 3,000 LED companies in China, of which only 140 have an annual output value of hundreds of millions. However, among the 140 companies, no one has annual sales of more than 1 billion yuan, and only a few of them have more than 500 million yuan, most of which are between 100 million yuan and 200 million yuan. It can be seen that although the number of LED enterprises in China is large, the scale is generally small.

The reporter randomly selected an LED company for interviews in China. Founded in 1993, Guangdong Dongguan Qinshang Optoelectronics Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred to as Qinshang Optoelectronics Co., Ltd.) is an enterprise engaged in the production of LED products earlier in China. It has also established the LED Lighting Technology Research Institute with Tsinghua University. Many domestic projects such as the National University Theater lighting, Beijing Green Olympic road lighting, Shanghai F1 racing track lighting, and Tsinghua University Olympic venue lighting are all from the company. However, it is such a "pathfinder" for the development of the domestic LED industry. When encountering patents from Japan, the United States, and Germany, it has to bypass to avoid it.

“The research and development of Qinshang Optoelectronics is mainly concentrated in the downstream application areas, and the research and development investment in the upper and middle reaches is relatively small. This is mainly because foreign large companies and some enterprises in Taiwan have monopolized most of the LED core technologies, domestic enterprises. It can only turn its attention to the downstream application market with low technical content.” Qin Wei, an intellectual property commissioner of Qinshang Optoelectronics, was blunt about the status quo of domestic LED companies when interviewed by China Intellectual Property News.

According to the reporter's understanding, the industry has initially formed an industrial structure centered on Asia, North America and Europe, with Japan's Nichia Chemical, Toyota Synthetic, US Kerry, General Electric and Germany's Osram as the core technology. Competitive landscape. US and Japanese companies have monopoly advantages in epitaxial wafers, chip technology and equipment. European companies have outstanding advantages in applied technology, while China's LEDs are still at the lower end level, and about 80% of products are concentrated in landscape lighting, traffic lights, etc. In the application market, there are relatively few high-end products involved in automotive lighting and large screens.

The problem is the lack of core patents, and the cooperation between industry, university and research institutes is loose.

“The five international manufacturers from Japan, the United States and Europe represent the highest level of LEDs today and have a major impact on the development of the industry. This influence is not only reflected in products and revenues, but more importantly, monopoly on technology, more than 50%. The core patents are in the hands of these five major manufacturers." An industry analyst introduced this reporter.

With the vigorous development of the domestic LED market, more and more foreign companies have turned their attention to China. Especially in recent years, the number of patent applications in the field of LEDs accepted by China has increased significantly year by year. In the "Semiconductor Lighting Patent Risk Analysis Research Report" provided by the Development Research Center of the State Intellectual Property Office, the reporter saw that as of the end of 2008, 22 countries and regions in the world have applied for patents in China, and countries with obvious technological advantages are China has a high proportion of patent applications, and the top five countries are Japan, South Korea, the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. Among them, Japan has a number of 1,306 patent applications, accounting for 24% of the total number of applications, and the remaining four countries accounted for 7%, 5%, 4%, and 3% of the total applications, respectively.

In terms of effective patents, the ratio of domestic patent applications to foreign patent applications in China is about 4 to 5. However, in these domestic patent applications, the Taiwan region has occupied a large share, and its effective invention patents accounted for 53%. In other words, if the Taiwan area is removed, the gap between the number of patents and the amount of patents in the mainland and abroad will be even greater.

In addition, from the perspective of the distribution of industrial chains, foreign companies mainly have more patents in the field of chips and packaging. Half of the LED core inventions have filed patent applications in China, Nichia, Osram, Lamirde, Kerry. Companies such as General Electric have mastered most of the core patented technologies. Among them, Nichia Chemical has the most core patents, covering all industrial chains except packaging.

Compared with the above-mentioned foreign companies, China's LED patent application is obviously at a disadvantage. According to the survey of the High-tech LED Industry Research Institute, as of the end of 2008, China's LED-related patent applications totaled 26,071,000, of which nearly 50% were in the midstream and downstream packaging and application patents. Although China has certain advantages in electrodes, microstructures, reflective layers, substrate stripping/healing, etc., most of them are peripheral patents, only 60% of invention patents, and internationally submitted through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) There are not many patent applications and patent applications abroad.

It is understood that in addition to the core technology competitiveness of China's LED industry is not strong, the loose combination of production, education and research is also the main factor restricting its development. A large part of China's LED patents are concentrated in research institutes. For example, in the field of extension, the top three patent holders are the Institute of Semiconductors of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beijing University of Technology; in the chip field, the top three The difference is the Institute of Semiconductors of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing University of Technology and Peking University. Compared with research institutes, domestic enterprises apply for more utility model patents.

The lack of core patents, loose cooperation between industry, university and research institutes has become a sword of Damocles hanging over Chinese companies, and the risk of patent infringement that enterprises face at any time.

“In February 2008, an American woman filed an application with the US International Trade Commission on the grounds of patent infringement, requesting 337 investigations on 34 companies including Hitachi, Samsung and Toshiba, including Guangzhou Hongli Optoelectronics Co., Ltd. and Shenzhen. Zhou Lei Electronics Co., Ltd. and other six Chinese companies. This case has sounded the alarm for China's LED industry.” An industry expert told reporters that with the further expansion of the LED market, Chinese companies are facing more and more patent risks. high.

Countermeasures to strengthen independent research and development, paying attention to the important role of patents

The concentrated display of LED lighting in major events such as the Beijing Olympic Games and the Shanghai World Expo has given people a new understanding of it, which has effectively promoted the development of China's LED industry. However, for domestic enterprises, strengthening independent research and development, strengthening the scale, improving product quality and technical level is the primary task at this stage.

Wang Huaxuan, director of the Patent Development and Licensing Department of the Intellectual Property Center of TCL Group Co., Ltd., told reporters: "In the face of foreign companies' 'Tigers', domestic enterprises should work harder to 'internal strength' and increase their independent innovation. New technologies that are widely accepted and recognized by the market, and based on this, license and cooperation with foreign companies."

In addition, "We can strengthen imitative innovation on the basis of digesting and absorbing foreign advanced technology. By improving the core patents of competitors, improving their technical effects, and applying for improved patents, this is an effective way to avoid the risk of patent infringement. Mao Jinsheng, director of the Development Research Center of the State Intellectual Property Office, pointed out.

In this regard, Xie Guanbin, a lawyer of Beijing Cube Law Firm, expressed the same view. He believes that enterprises must learn to use advanced technology legally, track patents that are about to expire, sign patent licensing contracts, anti-monopoly licenses, cross-licensing, and authorized production, and open up markets in countries where patents are not covered.

As domestic enterprises face more and more intellectual property disputes, especially foreign-related patent litigation, Wang Huazheng recommends: “When companies receive patent infringement lawsuits from multinational corporations, it is the best policy to choose to actively respond to suits, and learn to skillfully use different countries. The patent system and legal proceedings.” He further explained that in the United States, for example, using the evidence exchange procedure in US civil litigation, domestic companies can require the plaintiff to provide all technical information related to the patent in question, including technical secrets.

In addition, strengthening the industry-university-research cooperation between enterprises and research institutions is also an effective way to promote the rapid development of China's LED industry. Mao Jinsheng said that some research institutions in China have certain research and development capabilities, while some enterprises have strong processing and manufacturing capabilities. Enterprises, enterprises and scientific research institutions must strengthen cooperation awareness and promote the transfer of innovations from scientific research institutions to enterprises. Efforts will be made to cultivate a group of innovative "leading" enterprises with independent intellectual property rights.

During the interview, the reporter learned that although there are some problems in the development of China's LED industry, it is undeniable that this situation has gradually improved, and China is in the field of substrate, epitaxy, packaging and chips. The advantages are not to be ignored. Some of the research institutes have the world's leading patent technology and have the ability and strength to compete with multinational companies.

Teng Fei, director of the Industrial Security Research Center of the International Institute of Technology and Economics of the Development Research Center of the State Council, told reporters that the concept of LED enterprises in China is gradually changing. More and more small and medium-sized enterprises have begun to deploy strategically, and gradually pay attention to the early stage of intellectual property rights. Accumulate, learn to use science and technology to arm themselves, use patents to open up domestic and foreign markets, and turn a "trap" into a good market prospect. "With good experimental fields and breakthrough directions, companies should sum up lessons and lessons so that they can fly. Go higher and farther."

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