Patent disputes take GaN to court

Nuying Huang; Samuel Howarth, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

The big players in the GaN technology industry are suing each other.

The patent battle over Gallium Nitride (GaN) semiconductors has intensified and key players like EPC, Infineon, and Innoscience face lawsuits. In the GaN technology landscape, power is in the hands of the patent holder.

Taiwanese firms, including TSMC, are caught in this patent conflict due to their involvement with various GaN-related technologies and collaborations with other companies. GaN technology, previously popular in fast-charging devices, is now expanding into high-voltage applications like data centers, renewable energy, and electric vehicles.

Infineon is understood to have the most high-voltage GaN-related patents. This is a result of the company's acquisition of International Rectifier (IR) and GaN Systems.

When one of TSMC's clients was about to enter the medium to high-voltage market, they encountered legal attacks from Infineon. After evaluating the limited chances of success, they retreated and reverted to focusing on the low-voltage market.

Infineon eventually backed down fearing the damage the case could cause to its relationship with TSMC. However, Infineon's actions against other GaN competitors have served as a deterrent.

Innoscience is understood to be the only Chinese company to obtain complete authorization for GaN from IMEC in Belgium, making it a leader in China. Market insiders perceive Innoscience's biggest drawback to be the difficulty in scaling down the size.

Other GaN companies also possess patents. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Many companies have previously used reverse engineering to acquire their competitors' advantages. They aimed to improve and expand their market share.

This approach treads into a gray area of infringement and may lead to trouble just as performance begins to improve. Legal risks are significantly greater in high-difficulty areas such as medium and high voltage.

Innoscience has been successively sued by EPC and Infineon. This is primarily because Infineon aims to be the first to address the oversupply crisis in GaN.

Once production technology is in place Chinese companies tend to ramp up production frantically and flood the global market at low prices, squeezing out other competitors. Innoscience's production capacity is rapidly expanding and undercutting domestic rivals with low prices, indicating its future development.

If overseas markets are temporarily fully sealed off, industry insiders believe China's domestic demand is sufficient to ensure Innoscience's future development in GaN for low, medium, and high voltage. Overseas development may focus on non-infringing technologies.

In terms of the market for medium and high voltage power components such as IGBT, SiC, and GaN, Infineon ranks first, second, and third globally, respectively. IGBT has the largest market share, SiC is rapidly growing, and GaN is seen as the most promising star of tomorrow.

As the three products have some degree of substitutability, Infineon must effectively control the pace of each product's placement in the market. Otherwise, it risks its power empire being dismantled by competitors.