MiniLED patent lawsuit against Apple could impact supply chain

Siu Han, Taipei; Eifeh Strom, DIGITIMES Asia 0


Taiwan-based LED manufacturer Genesis Photonics has filed a lawsuit against Apple for patent infringement in Taiwan. Among the alleged infringements includes miniLED backlights in Apple's iPad Pro. The lawsuit could have a major impact on the entire miniLED ecosystem.

Flip-chip LED technology has been around for years but production has been limited by low yield rates and high costs. Very few in the industry have paid attention to the patents on the detailed structure and manufacturing process of flip-chip LEDs. As miniLED has evolved from flip-chip LED structure, alleged infringements could cover everything from packaging, substrates to light guide design. It seems that a patent war is on the verge of breaking out throughout the supply chain.

The Genesis lawsuit is the first time a Taiwan-based manufacturer has filed nine patent infringement complaints against Apple. Genesis is seeking compensation in the amount of NT$210 million (US$7.5 million) from Apple. While the sum is nothing to Apple, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros sold in Taiwan in December are likely to include more patent infringements, according to sources. If Apple continues to sell these products and a judge finds that Apple has in fact infringed on patent rights, it could triple the compensation amount. The court could also demand Apple pay compensation based on sales volume.

Genesis has revealed it is considering exercising its patent rights in China and the US as well.

Industry observers believe Genesis has taken the action because Apple itself is a strong proponent of intellectual property rights. In the past, Apple patented all technologies with promising potential applications. However, since miniLED is regarded as a transitional technology, Apple has fewer patents related to miniLED. Currently, the miniLED supply chain heavily relies on Taiwan-based manufacturers. Patent infringements put the brunt of the pressure on manufacturers in Taiwan.

The observers said Apple may decide to defend itself in court, but risk losing. And if the two parties fail to reach a settlement in Taiwan, Genesis may take the fight to the US. Genesis could sell its patents to other bigger firms, such as Samsung Electronics or Seoul Semiconductor: A bigger firm would mean a bigger challenge for Apple.

One of Apple's main goals for adopting miniLED and microLED is to free itself from Samsung's dominant supply position. With Samsung's robust financial resources, if it were to purchase all patents related to miniLEDs and chip scale packages (CSP), it would greatly impede Apple's ability to develop new products. It would also result in a reshuffling of market leaders and other companies without patent protections would likely be forced out of the market, said the industry observers.

Genesis pointed out that regardless of the outcome of Apple lawsuit, the company will be keen on making good use of its patents in 2022. It said currently, China-based companies and others in the industry are seeking cooperation or patent authorization. In the future, this could be used as a way to reduce competition. However, for now, Genesis will continue to carefully select partners and does not wish to sell its patents.