IP Landscape of Foldable Display Technology: What are the key players focusing on?
by Nabu Xavier, on Jun 13, 2019 10:14:00 AM
There are good things I see on Samsung phones that I wish were in my iPhone. I wish Apple would use them and could use them, and I don't know if Samsung would stop us.
- Steve Wozniak
The smartphone industry has been evolving at break-neck speed, of late, with key players releasing updated and upgraded flagship smartphones every year. This technology race is close, and there is no telling who will succeed or which product will be the next iPhone X or Galaxy fold. To the rest of the world, this industry and its developments may seem fast but if you look at patent developments, you will realize that this has been happening gradually over more than 2 decades. With the most recent announcements from Samsung, Apple and other major players, all getting ready to launch foldable display smartphones, the industry is abuzz with new speculation.
So far, not much information is available about where these key players are at, in developing this new form of smartphone display technology. There is speculation that foldable smart phones are just around the corner, but no real world development has happened, nor is the technological aspects of the product overtly discussed. In such a situation, patent data analysis is one of the most reliable and insightful methods that can shed light into this otherwise unclear technology space.
Global development of patents in foldable display technology
The search for all patents related to the field of foldable displays was conducted using full-text search terms and CPC & IPC classes pertaining to this technology. Such a search in our BI resulted in about 5000 active patent families, belonging to various owners, that are protecting inventions related to foldable display technology. A good thing to note here is that depending on our search criteria we can include or exclude inactive patents, as well, in the search.
To get an idea of the development of this technology and to understand its global trend, the development of the market as a whole (without looking at individual companies) can be studied, in order to map the growth of the industry over the past two decades. The global development of patent portfolio size in foldable display technology and the corresponding trend of this portfolio's Patent Asset Index™ score (PatentSight metric for indicating the value or average strength of a patent family) is displayed on this graph. The average strength of patents in this technology field did not change by much, initially, but can be seen to surge during the past decade. It can also be easily inferred from the graph, that this technology has seen a spurt of filings in the recent past.
This sudden increase of interest in foldable technologies could, to some extent, be explained by the introduction of OLED technology in displays, around this time. Until then, LCD was the major technology being used in digital displays, including smartphone displays. With the development of OLED technology, these displays could be made much thinner and more flexible as compared to their LCD counterparts. The release of this technology had revolutionized smartphones, smartwatches, effectively all digital display-based products and thus, led to increased research in the field of foldable displays.
Who are the strong contenders in the playing field of Foldable Displays?
In order to get a clearer look into individual companies that have been developing this technology, in the BI, we alter the previous chart that showed the development of the global portfolio, by including owner details as a distinguishing element of the chart. The resulting chart is as seen below. It is evident from this chart that Samsung owns a considerably strong portfolio of patents in this technology and how the global innovators compare, with respect to each other.
Apart from the usual suspects (smartphone companies), that are expected to be active in this field, we also see some fairly unfamiliar names, of companies that may not be internationally recognized. But they have, nevertheless, been developing strong portfolios of foldable display patents; like BOE, TCL or OPPO. Interestingly enough, BOE has reportedly replaced LG as a supplier of displays to Huawei, who recently launched their first foray into the world of foldable smartphones with their new model, Huawei Mate X.
Samsung vs Apple – different approaches to developing the same technology
An alternative method to compare and benchmark top players in any technology field is the Quantity vs. Quality chart (as shown below). Apart from the most commonly used template, this is loved unanimously by all PatentSight users. This chart plots companies based on their portfolio’s average Competitive Impact™ or average quality and portfolio size or quantity. It is easy to spot the strength of each player on this chart, be it in quantity or quality or both. The size of the bubbles depends on the respective portfolio’s Patent Asset Index™ score.
To see how detailed analysis and insights into a competitive space can be extruded out of the PatentSight database using our BI, watch our upcoming free/open to non-users webinar on the same topic. Head over to our Webinars page to register now.
When we look closely at how these portfolios developed over the years, it becomes clear why Samsung has a clear lead in this race. They began building their portfolio in this technology almost 10 years ahead of Apple. Samsung can also be seen to almost consistently increase their filings in this technology from 2010 to 2015 whereas Apple filed a few patents initially in 2010 & 11 but did not keep the momentum (watch our webinar on this topic, to learn how the yearly comparison was made).
Companies with Patents in Foldable Displays – separating the wheat from the chaff with detailed patent analytics
We have now established that 2 of the main players in the smartphone market are poles apart in their IP strategies when it comes to foldable display technology. It would therefore be beneficial for us to identify how these companies defer from each other in regard to the type of technologies that they have focused on developing within the broader classification of “foldable displays”. An in-depth analysis, like the one below, shows that Apple does not own many patents in the core technology class of foldable displays, which includes patents for the material, substrates and build of the screen itself. If you are already a user, head over to our webinars page to watch a recording of a webinar, on this topic, that we conducted recently.
Whom to watch out for?
So, who can Apple, and other smartphone makers who have chosen not to focus developing this technology, trust when it comes to deciding on a reliable supplier, this time around? Let’s take a closer look at the rest of the players in the field. By looking at the technologies in which Apple has no or little portfolio size in, as seen below, it is effortless to narrow down the list of companies who are technologically poised to deliver.
From the looks of it, Samsung, BOE and LG, all of whom own multiple valuable patents in foldable display related technologies, are all well prepared to take on this role. This is clearly visible in the ongoing patenting race, as witnessed by the increased filing from these firms, in the recent years. Only time will tell who ends up grabbing the deal ultimately, with the ability and capacity to supply to scale. As for Apple, they could be waiting to identify the most reliable player to emerge out of this race to decide on whom to source the displays for their foldable smartphones from.
If you would like to know exactly how these analyses were conducted and how further insights can be derived from LexisNexis PatentSight, simply click on the button below and we will get back to you to schedule a free demo
我看到三星手機上有一些不錯的功能，希望 iPhone 也能具備。希望蘋果願意並且能夠使用這些功能，但我不知道三星是否會阻止我們。
- Steve Wozniak
近年來，智慧手機行業一直以驚人的速度發展，主要製造商每年都會發佈更新和升級的旗艦智慧手機。在這場勢均力敵的技術競賽中，沒有人知道誰會勝出，也沒有人知道哪款產品會成為下一代 iPhone X 或 Galaxy Fold。對於外界而言，這個行業似乎發展快速，但如果瞭解專利的開發情況，便會發現這是 20 多年來逐步發展的結果。近期，三星、蘋果和其他主要廠商紛紛宣告準備推出折疊面板智慧手機，這引發人們對這行業新的猜測。
我們使用與折疊面板技術相關的全文搜尋詞以及 CPC 和 IPC 分類搜索了與該技術領域相關的所有專利。我們按照上述方法在 BI 中進行搜索，大約檢索到 5000 件旨在保護折疊面板技術相關發明的有效同族專利產品，這些專利分屬於不同所有者。值得注意的是，我們甚至可以利用搜索條件包含或排除無效專利。
我們研究整個市場的發展情況（不考慮個別公司），並以此為基礎繪製該行業過去 20 年的成長圖，從而瞭解這項技術的發展情況及全球趨勢。下圖顯示折疊面板技術中專利組合規模的全球開發情況，以及Patent Asset Index™ 專利資產指數（PatentSight 指標：用於表示同族專利的價值或平均強度）的相應趨勢。起初，這個技術領域的專利平均強度沒有明顯變化，但在過去 10 年開始急劇攀升。從圖中可以輕鬆推斷出，這項技術的專利申請數量在近期明顯激增。
從某種程度上而言，人們之所以突然如此關注折疊面板技術，是因為顯示面板領域引進OLED 技術。在此之前，數字顯示面板（包括智慧手機顯示螢幕）所採用的主流技術為 LCD。隨著 OLED 技術的發展，其優勢日益凸顯，與 LCD 面板相比，OLED 面板更薄、更柔韌。這項技術的問世對智慧手機、智慧手錶等所有數字顯示面板的相關產品產生顛覆性影響，在此大背景下，折疊面板領域的研究也隨之增加。
為了更清楚瞭解開發這項技術的各個公司，在 BI 中，我們對之前展示全球專利組合發展情況的圖表加以修改，加入所有者詳細資訊作為圖表中的一個區分元素。生成的圖表如下，從中可以看出，三星在這項技術上擁有相當強大的專利組合，同時還可以瞭解全球創新者之間的對比情況。
除了該領域的主流玩家（智慧手機公司）外，我們還看到一些國際知名度相對不高的名字，但這些公司一直在開發強大的折疊面板專利組合，例如 BOE、TCL 或 OPPO。值得關注的是，根據報導，BOE 已取代 LG 成為華為的顯示螢幕供應商，華為近期推出新款華為 Mate X，率先吹響了進軍可折疊智慧手機領域的號角。
三星與蘋果 - 殊途同歸
在任何技術領域中比較和衡量頂級市場玩家的另一種方法是數量與品質圖表（如下所示）。這款範本不僅使用頻率最高，而且深受所有 PatentSight 用戶的喜愛。下圖是比較各個公司專利組合的平均 Competitive Impact™（競爭影響力值）和規模。透過此圖，我們可以從數量、品質，或同時從兩方面輕鬆瞭解各個公司的實力。圖中圓圈大小取決於各公司專利組合的 Patent Asset Index™（專利資產指數）評分。
要瞭解如何使用 BI 透過 PatentSight 資料庫獲取有關競爭優勢的詳細分析和洞察，請觀看我們此主題即將舉辦的免費網路研討會。立即前往網路研討會頁面進行註冊。
當我們詳細研究這些專利組合多年來的發展歷程，就可以明白為什麼三星在這場競爭中佔據明顯的領先優勢。他們在這項技術領域的專利研發比蘋果公司早了近 10 年的時間。從 2010 年到 2015 年，三星持續增加有關這項技術的專利申請，而蘋果最初在 2010 年和 2011 年申請了一些專利，但並沒有維持情勢（請觀看我們關於該主題的網路研討會，瞭解如何進行年度比較）。
擁有折疊面板技術專利的公司 – 透過詳細的專利分析區分優劣
從表面上看，三星、BOE 和 LG 都已準備好“擔此重任”，這三家公司在折疊面板相關技術方面均擁有多項重磅級專利。這一點從正在進行的專利申請競賽中顯而易見，近年來這些公司申請專利的數量不斷增加就是最好的證明。讓我們拭目以待，究竟哪家廠商能夠率先實現量產，最終拿下這塊大餅。至於蘋果，他們可能會等待在這場競爭中選出最可靠的廠商，來決定從哪家採購可折疊智慧手機的顯示螢幕。