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PV Patent: Exploit Your Innovation

Although organic and hybrid technology is still in the maturation stage in both public and private research centers, industry is already coming up with an incalculable number of applications. NEDO, which has drawn up a road map for organic cell technology efficiency, estimates that 15% laboratory efficiency could be attained in 2020 and 18% by 2030. This technology could, therefore, reach maturity within ten or so years. Several industrial concerns have, therefore, launched themselves into an assault of this very high-potential market by building up robust patent portfolios. Today, there are as many patent applications filed on organic and hybrid technologies as on thin-film technology, even though the latter is considerably more mature. This article focuses on patents and patent applications, filed between 1985 and mid 2007, that can be associated with “organic and hybrid” technology in an overall manner to determine those responsible for initiating innovations as well as new players, to identify the most active research centers as well as potential partnerships and to provide a complementary outlook to market studies.

 

By FIST IP Overview Team

 

[Editor’s Note]

Organic and hybrid cells are photovoltaic cells in which at least the active layer is constituted of organic molecules. There are three main types of organic and hybrid cells: exclusively organic photovoltaic cells (polymer or molecular), Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells (DSSCs), which are constituted of an active layer made of inorganic material (often titanium oxide) in which is incorporated a photosensitive pigment, and finally other hybrid cells in which there is a polymer/metal oxide mixture.

These types of technologies enable not just the mass production of photovoltaic cells but also use very little material, meaning flexible and inexpensive supports can be used, such as thin plastic films, for example. These advantages augur well for the success of this type of technology. However, organic and hybrid solar cells, mainly due to their still too low efficiency, are not yet able to compete with silicon cells or Cd-Te type thin films for the mass production of electricity, despite the fact that both of the latter are more expensive to produce on account of the cost of raw materials.

This article, which is the third in a series of three articles about the patent environment in the photovoltaic field, focuses on organic and hybrid technology. The first article, published in the February 2010 issue, looked at patents and patent applications, filed between 1985 and mid 2007, that can be associated with crystalline silicon technology. The second article, published in the March 2010 issue, examined thin-film cell patent environment.

 

Protection Strategies

 

Evolution in Patent Filings

Following the discovery of semi-conductor polymers in 1977, it was only in 1985 that the first uses of their semi-conducting properties appeared with, in the longer term, three main applications: organic transistors, Organic Light Emitting Diodes/Polymer Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs/PLEDs) and finally Organic Photovoltaic Solar Cells (OPVs).

Thus, the first patent filings began in 1985 with applications concerning conductor polymers (in particular doped films of polyparaphenylene or organic semi-conductor thin films containing phthalocyanines), the photovoltaic applications of which were already envisaged. 1992 saw a peak in filings linked to the strong activity of MITA INDUSTRIAL (25 patent applications for this year alone), now renamed KYOCERA MITA since its takeover by KYOCERA in 2000. Up to 1997, the annual number of filings did not change much (less than 25 applications a year) but then showed significant growth, attaining more than 300 applications filed in 2005. In 2006, there was a slight downturn in annual filings, which, nevertheless, remained at a high level, above 250 applications a year.

Since the data for 2007 is incomplete due to the 18 month delay in publication, it has been extrapolated. Concerning projections for forthcoming years, a leveling off in filings is expected in 2009 linked to the economic climate, which could bring about a significant reduction in the budgets earmarked for patent protection. Moreover, the probable drop in R&D budgets in 2009, possibly even extending into 2010, should be felt on the volume of patent application filings over the following years. Nevertheless, in the longer term, this sector should experience renewed growth on account of both the energy (upward trend in the price of fossil energies) and political contexts (tax incentives in favor of renewable energies, Kyoto protocol). As of 2011, a resurge in the growth in filings up to a volume close to 350 patent applications a year within 4 years is, therefore, expected.

Figure 1 illustrates the evolution of filings on photovoltaic organic and hybrid technologies.

 

Figure 1. Evolution of thin-film cell patent filings (Source: FIST SA)

 

Priority Filings

An analysis of the location of the filings of priority patent applications results in the map shown in Figure 2.

Japan is the main location of priority filings (1,237 families of patents), in keeping with the geographic origin of a large number of players in this sector and the practice of priority filing in the country of origin of the applicant. The overwhelming weight of priority filings in Japan since 1985 may also be explained by the fact that the Japanese patent office is traditionally tougher than other patent offices with regard to problems of the unity of invention. Japanese companies thus file several patent applications with few claims in instances where an American or European company would only file one.

The main locations of filings are then the rest of Asia (240 filings) and more specifically South Korea and China, which represent respectively 136 and 81 priority filings, then the United States (227 filings) and finally all of the filings stemming either from a national filing in a European country or from a filing made directly via the European Procedure (EP) (142 filings).

The representation over time of these priority filings highlights an important trend, namely the buildup since 2002 of Asian filings, quite apart from Japanese filings, which were already dominant before this date.

 

Figure 2. Map of priority filings concerning organic and hybrid cells (Source: FIST SA)

 

Technological Maturity Factors

 

Topology of the Size of Portfolios

Figure 4 provides an insight into the composition of the patent portfolios and patent applications on photovoltaic organic and hybrid cells.

It appears that the majority of players (81%) possess a portfolio of less than 5 patents and only 1% of patent portfolios contain more than 50 patents. A considerable number of players exist, including very small firms, universities and research centers, which file in the field without having any specific patent strategy.

 

Analysis of the Granting of Patents

It is interesting to analyze the proportion of patents granted as a function of the number of filings made. This analysis may be performed on U.S., Japanese and European filings and gives an insight into the real patent protection at the time of the study on which this article is based. Note that the ratio of U.S. patents granted compared to U.S. patents filed needs to be extrapolated. In fact, before November 2000, U.S. patent applications were only published on the day of granting of the patent and applications that were not granted were never in fact published.

To date, nearly 1,500 Japanese patent application filings have been made (priority + extensions) of which only 180 have been granted, 632 U.S. patent applications filings have been made of which 192 have been granted and finally as regards patent applications stemming from the European procedure, out of 371 applications, 70 have been granted. Figure 5 shows that, at the moment, more patents have been granted in the United States than in Japan despite a far fewer number of filings, which the filings analysis carried out previously could not have predicted.

Thus, in the present case, a considerable number of applications are not granted, which is explained by the fact that filings concerning photovoltaic organic and hybrid cells have considerably intensified since 2003 and the examination procedure concerning them is thus not necessarily finished for a large number of them. An analysis over time in each of these geographic zones enables a better understanding of the phenomenon of examination grant time. An analysis of the grant rate by country over time makes it possible to highlight trends, such as a toughening of the grant conditions or instead a propensity to abandon the maintenance of patent applications before they are granted.

An analysis over time of the grant rate cannot, however, be de-correlated from the evolution in the grant time. This grant time evolves and makes it possible to determine up to which date the grant rate may be taken into account.

 

Figure 3. Evolution of priority filings concerning organic and hybrid cells (Source: FIST SA)

 

Evolution in the Number of Applicants

Figure 6 shows the evolution in the number of applicants who appear in the patent applications for the year in question (darker curve). Thus, this curve does not represent the total number of players active in the filing of patent applications, since a player may very well not have made any filings over the course of a year. The lighter curve, for its part, represents the annual number of applicants who appear for the first time in a patent application.

An analysis of Figure 6 enables two principal trends to be identified:

● A first period from 1985 to 1996, during which the number of applicants was extremely low and during which the total number of applicants almost coincides with that of new applicants, standing at between 5 and 10 new entrants a year,

● From 1997 onwards, a very sustained period of growth of applicants up to 2006 may be observed, a sign of the increasing attractiveness of the sector, the number of new applicants also increasing quite considerably.

The 2006 data provides a glimpse of a forthcoming very high level of interest, perhaps even more significant, with nearly 55 newcomers in the sector in this year alone.

 

Applicants

 

Major Applicants

As traditionally observed in the photovoltaics field, the main applicants are mainly Japanese (17 out of 20) and for the most part industrial (19 out of 20). Among the 20 main applicants in fact only AIST (National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology), the biggest Japanese research organisation, appears with more than 40 patent applications.

Different types of industrial concern may be distinguished, namely “printers” (FUJIFILM, RICOH, DAINIPPON PRINTING, SEIKO EPSON, KYOCERA MITA), manufacturers of screens that conduct research on OLEDs (SAMSUNG, SONY) but also automobile or component manufacturers (TOYOTA, AISIN, NGK SPARK PLUGS, BRIDGESTONE). In this classification, only one company is uniquely involved in the production of photovoltaic cells, KONARKA TECHNOLOGIES.

 

Figure 4. Portfolio size vs. number of players (Source: FIST SA)

 

Major Collaborations

There are several explanations to the co-filings. Either they may be filings resulting from collaboration between two separate companies or between a company and an academic player, or instead the link may arise from a relation between a parent company and its subsidiary, which leads to joint filings. Generally speaking, the main collaborations stem from Japanese firms and/or academic institutions. Furthermore, very few joint filings have been made between players from different geographic zones.

The collaboration that has generated the most joint filings is that between TOYOTA and AISIN. Thus, out of TOYOTA’s 41 patents in the field, 30 patent applications have been filed jointly with AISIN, a Japanese company that develops and produces systems and components for the automobile industry. This company has thus collaborated with TOYOTA CENTRAL R&D LABS in the development of DSSCs (Dye Sensitized Solar Cells). In addition to the low cost of DSSCs, AISIN and TOYOTA are particularly interested in this type of solar cell on account of the possibility of adjusting their color and transparency in order to adapt them to automobile or house windows. In 2005, they presented prototypes of these cells at AICHI EXPO 2005. Subsequently, these two companies have focused on enhancing the life expectancy and heat resistance of these cells before embarking on possible commercialization. They have, therefore, conducted a long-term open-air durability test with their 6 mm x 9 mm cell that has an 8.2% laboratory efficiency and is durable up to 85 by replacing the liquid electrolyte with a gel-state substance.

The list of patents and patent applications made jointly between these entities and referenced in this study is given hereafter:

● Electrode and dye-sensitized solar cell using it for counter electrode (JP 2007179822, filed in 2005)

● Dye-sensitized solar battery (JP 2007073198, filed in 2005)

● Transparent electrode, dye-sensitized solar cell having it and dye-sensitized solar cell module (JP 2006310252, filed in 2005)

● Dye-sensitized solar battery and mounting method of the same (JP 2006024477, filed in 2004)

● Photoelectrode and dye-sensitized solar cell equipped with above (JP 2005302695, filed in 2004)

● Sunroof apparatus with solar cells (JP 2005067472, filed in 2003)

● Metal complex pigment, photoelectrode, and pigment sensitization-type solar cell (JP 2005154606, filed in 2003)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2004349129, filed in 2003)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2004253333, filed in 2003)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2004247158, filed in 2003)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2004152613, filed in 2002)

● Manufacturing method of dye-sensitized solar cell, and dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2004134298, filed in 2002)

● Carbon electrode, electrode and dye-sensitized solar cell provided therewith (JP 2004152747, filed in 2002)

● Carbon electrode and dye-sensitized solar cell with the same (JP 2004127849, filed in 2002)

● Dye sensitizing solar cell (JP 2004111277, filed in 2002)

● Dye sensitizing solar cell (JP 2004111276, filed in 2002)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2004039292, filed in 2002)

● Metal complex pigment, photoelectrode and pigment sensitizing solar cell (JP 2003342488, filed in 2002)

● Dye sensitized solar battery (JP 2003346928, filed in 2002)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2004055536, filed in 2002)

● Optical member and photoelectrode, dye-sensitized solar cell, photoelectric converter and electrooptic converter (JP 2003255125, filed in 2002)

● Photo-electrode and dye sensitized solar cell provide with the same (JP 2003142171, filed in 2001)

● Photo-electrode and dye sensitized solar cell equipped therewith (JP 2003142170, filed in 2001)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2003100358, filed in 2001)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2003068373, filed in 2001)

● Metal complex dye, photoelectrode and dye sensitizing solar battery (JP 2003003083, filed in 2001)

● Photoelectrode and pigment sensitized solar cell comprising it (JP 2002289274, filed in 2001)

● Manufacturing method of photoelectrode for dye sensitized solar cell and manufacturing method of dye sensitized solar cell (JP 2002289269, filed in 2001)

● Optical electrode and dye-sensitized solar battery provided with the same (JP 2002280087, filed in 2001)

● Dye-sensitized solar cells and dye-sensitized solar cell modules (JP 2002260746, filed in 2001)

TOYOTA has moreover filed 5 applications jointly with the University of KYUSHU, which all concern organic solar cells (OPV, Organic PhotoVoltaic):

● Photoresponsive electrode for solar cell, method of manufacturing the same, and organic polymer solar cell employing the same (JP 2007311725, filed in 2006)

● Photo-response electrode, and organic solar cell using it (JP 2007258079, filed in 2006)

● Photoresponsive electrode and organic solar cell equipped with the same (JP 2007165093, filed in 2005)

● Photo-response electrode and organic solar cell equipped with the same (JP 2006019189, filed in 2004)

● Solar cell and its manufacturing method (JP 2005259436, filed in 2006)

 

Figure 5. Overview of “organic and hybrid cells” granted patents (Source: FIST SA)

 

Another notable cooperation is that which has resulted in the filing of 6 patent applications jointly between the UNIVERSITY of KYOTO, HITACHI, ROHM, NTT and PIONEER. In fact, in 2001, the University of KYOTO announced the set-up of five to ten research projects in the field of nanotechnologies in collaboration with several Japanese firms beginning in the Spring of 2002. The research projects were conducted within the University of KYOTO by researchers funded by industry.

The research topics were centered on new materials such as organic semi-conductors and materials for display devices. MITSUBISHI CHEMICAL, ROHM, HITACHI, NTT and PIONEER have in particular worked together on DSSCs (Dye Sensitized Solar Cells). The following patents have been inventoried as stemming from this collaboration:

● Titania nano-rod, its manufacture method, and dye sensitizing solar battery using this titania nano-rod (JP 2007070136, filed in 2005)

● Photoelectric element comprising organic thin film having multilayered structure, process for producing the same, and solar cell (JP 2006156956, filed in 2004)

● Dye-sensitized solar cell (JP 2006086056, filed in 2004)

● Organic photoelectric conversion device and organic solar cell (JP 2005236278, filed in 2004)

● Photoelectric element using graft thin film and solar cell (JP 2005235794, filed in 2004)

● Conductive polymer, its producing method and organic solar cell using it (JP 2004277736, filed in 2003)

The University of GIFU in collaboration with SEKISUI JUSHI (a company specialized in urban planning and road construction) has developed photovoltaic DSSCs intended in particular for lighting road signs at night by means of LEDs. Among the 35 patent applications filed by the company, five applications have stemmed from this collaboration:

● Photoelectricity for the pigment sensitized type solar array extremely and production method of the photoelectric pole for the pigment sensitized type solar array (JP 2008243701, filed in 2007)

● Zinc oxide pigment sensitized type solar array (JP 2008243700, filed in 2007)

● Sensitizing dye used for dye-sensitized photoelectric conversion element and solar cell using sensitizing dye (JP 2008177147, filed in 2006)

● Sensitizing dye used for dye-sensitized photoelectric conversion element and dye-sensitized solar cell using sensitizing dye (JP 2007220412, filed in 2006)

● Sensitizing dye used for dye-sensitized photoelectric transfer element, and solar cell using the sensitizing dye (JP 2007103338, filed in 2005)

The HAYASHIBARA BIOCHEMICAL LABORATORIES Company, in collaboration with the “Photoreaction Control Research Center” laboratory of AIST has developed DSSC technology enabling a large absorption of the solar spectrum without ruthenium (unlike Gratzel cells), while at the same time obtaining efficiencies similar to Gratzel cells. The HAYASHIBARA BIOCHEMICAL LABORATORIES Company has filed 8 patent applications, including 5 jointly filed with AIST:

● Semiconductor electrode, photoelectric conversion element and photoelectrochemical solar battery having styryl series dye as photo-sensitizer (JP 2003234133, filed in 2002)

● Semiconductor thin-film electrode using organic dye as photosensitizer, photoelectric conversion element, and optical electrochemical solar battery (JP 2004095450, filed in 2002)

● Semiconductor thin-film electrodes made by using organic dyes as the photosensitizer and photoelectric conversion devices (JP 2002164089, filed in 2000)

● Hybrid solar cells with thermal deposited semiconductive oxide layer (US 2004168718, filed in 2000)

● Organic pigment sensitized porous oxide semiconductor electrode and solar cell using the same (JP 2001052766, filed in 1999)

 

Figure 6. Evolution of the number of applicants (Source: FIST SA)

 

A project, directed by Professor Arakawa, in which are involved FUJIKURA, the TOKYO UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE, SHARP, SUMITOMO OSAKA CEMENT and AIST, has led to filings by the latter two players of 6 patent applications. This research has enabled a laboratory conversion efficiency of 11% to be obtained for cells with a surface area of 5 mm2, which was achieved in particular by controlling the arrangement of TiO2 molecules at the nanometric scale to improve the absorption of the cells. The patents filed are listed below:

● Photoelectric conversion element and solar cell (JP 2005129580, filed in 2003)

● Photoelectric transfer element and solar cell (JP 2005129259, filed in 2003)

● Photoelectric transfer element and its manufacturing method (JP 2004095387, filed in 2002)

● Pigment-sensitized solar cell (JP 2004039471, filed in 2002)

● Regeneration method for dye sensitized solar battery (JP 2002280086, filed in 2001)

● Dye-sensitized solar battery (JP 2002280085, filed in 2001)

 

Topology of Patents in the Sector

 

Segmentation of Patents by Technology

The technological segmentation has been carried out in two stages. Firstly, it was chosen to split patents that claim the three major types of cells of this study namely: exclusively Organic Cells (Organic/Polymer Cells), Dye-sensitized Solar Cells (DSSCs), and finally organic type hybrid cells in which a metal oxide is added to the polymer (other hybrid). This segmentation thus makes it possible to see in which technology each player is involved as well as the dynamic over time associated with each type of cell.

A second more technical segmentation enables the areas of improvement protected by the players in order to obtain a competitive advantage to be targeted. This segmentation makes it possible to distinguish the patents that claim encapsulation methods, stabilisation methods (mainly solutions to overcome problems of limited lifetimes), the colorants used (mainly colorants based on metal or organic complexes), transparent conductive oxides, transparent conductive polymers, 3-D matrices (principally for DSSCs based on TiO2 or ZnO) and finally electrolytes (solid or liquid).

Thus, Figure 8 shows that the majority of patents and patent applications inventoried in this study protect DSSCs. Only a low proportion concerns other hybrid cells. In Figure 9, it has been chosen to represent this data over time so as to more clearly illustrate the filing dynamic in this sector.

The development of conductor polymers dates from 1977, and the first applications in particular to the photovoltaics field were envisaged as of 1985. For instance, patent applications have been filed concerning organic semiconductor layers with a photovoltaic effect (cf. for example, the patent application of MITSUBISHI PETROCHEMICAL CO, JP61210680). Nevertheless, no significant efficiency was brought to light prior to the arrival of DSSC type hybrid cells in the 1990s. In 1987, work concerning photosensitisation by inks (of phthalocyanine type) was protected by EASTMANN KODAK but initially associated with layers of amorphous silicon rather than a matrix of semiconductor oxide as observed in DSSCs (cf. US4711831). Thus, in 1990, EPFL protected the first DSSCs, which combine a layer of TiO2 with a metal complex type photosensitizer, such as in particular ruthenium (US5350644). As of this date, several patents were filed each year up to 1996-1997, the date from which the number of annual protections increased in a particularly strong manner.

Although the number of applications that concern organic cells is also increasing, this trend is a lot more measured. As of 1997, other hybrid cells began to appear and be protected, but to a lesser extent.

 

Figure 7. Major applicants in the field (Source: FIST SA)

 

Type of Cells Protected by the Main Players

An analysis of Figure 10 shows that most of the main players, such as FUJIFILM, SHARP and SONY, are focused on DSSCs. Others, such as RICOH, the UNIVERSITY OF PRINCETON (certain patents of which are licensed to GLOBAL PHOTONIC ENERGY CORP) or MERCK OLED MATERIALS, file almost exclusively on organic/polymer cells. The positioning of KONARKA is worthy of note because this company seems to be pursuing a policy of filing in all three segments (crystalline silicon cells, thin-film cells and organic hybrid cells) considered in this series of articles. This observation is in keeping with KONARKA’s press announcements, which would indicate that the company intends to commercialize in the short term not just hybrid cells but also exclusively polymer cells.

Figure 11, on the other hand, aims to list more specifically what protects the patents and patent applications. This section, therefore, aims to determine if the patent in question mainly concerns the TCO (Transparent Conductive Oxide) or TCP (Transparent Conductive Polymer) electrodes, the electrolytes (solid or liquid), the semiconductor matrix, the dyes, the stabilization of the cell or instead encapsulation.

Numerous patents cite a multitude of different colorants that can be used as a function of the composition of the matrix of the photovoltaic cell that is protected. However, few patents uniquely claim the colorant as such. The patents that are specifically aimed at colorants mainly concern mononuclear or binuclear metal complexes (based on ruthenium (Ru), osmium (Os), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu) or iron (Fe)) or instead organic colorants such as phthalocyanine, which is widely used.

Although other colorants or pigments are not the specific subject of the patents and patent applications contained in this article, it is interesting to list the compounds that may be used as colorants cited in patents for DSSCs or organic cells: ruthenium complex, phthalocyanine, eosin, azodyes, coumarin, rhodamine B, erythrosine B, phloxine B, rose Bengal, fluorocreson, mercurochrome, dibromofluorescein, pyrogallol, bromophenol, bromothymol, phenolphthalein, different types of colorants based on cyanine, indigo dyes, oxonol dyes, etc.

The phenomenon, observed for dyes, of listing all the compounds that can be used for a particular function can also be observed with TCO and semi-conductor matrices. Thus, certain patents claim a list of oxides in the following manner:

“15. The dye-sensitized solar cell of claim 5, further comprising a light absorption layer formed between the pair of electrodes, wherein the light absorption layer includes metal oxide micro particles comprising at least one of TiO2, SnO2, ZnO2, WO3, Nb2O5, Al2O3, MgO, and TiSrO3.”

These patents have voluntarily been removed from the segmentation evoked previously since they are not specific to a compound.

Consequently, this segmentation can highlight FUJIFILM’s positioning on the stabilisation of cells, which is more pronounced than its competitors. In the same way, TOYOTA and AISIN seem to be interested more specifically in transparent conductive oxides whereas companies such as FUJIKURA and SHARP more generally focus on the various avenues for improving the performance of photovoltaic organic and hybrid cells.

 

 

Figure 8. Segmentation of photovoltaic organic and hybrid cell patent portfolios (Source: FIST SA)

 

Changing Patent Landscape

After numerous years of research and development on photovoltaics, the resulting electrical energy remains costly and, consequently, one of the least widely used. Nevertheless, a large number of players are now positioned in this sector and are working on reducing the costs of production /kWh generated, this latter topic leading to a considerable patent filing activity in all photovoltaic technologies.

Organic and hybrid photovoltaic technologies are thus an interesting way of making this energy accessible and competitive because they use new less expensive materials and implement techniques that are themselves cheaper compared with other solar technologies. Furthermore, the interest for this type of technology is reinforced by the multitude of applications that they allow due to their flexibility and the fact that, due to their unobtrusiveness, they can be easily integrated into buildings (at present one of the major brakes to the development of modules based on crystalline silicon).

However, organic and hybrid cells (in particular DSSCs), despite nearly 20 years of development, are not yet really commercialized on a wide scale, despite numerous public announcements. The main blockages associated with these cells are:

● Their restricted lifetime.

● The very low efficiency of industrially produced cells.

The very promising future in terms of market and the technological barriers that need to be overcome before the industrialization of these cells are two triggering factors in the patent race which has begun on this topic and which is illustrated by a 25% annual increase in filings since 1997. Today, the number of applications associated with this topic that were filed in 2006 reached nearly 300 filings compared to around 250 patent applications each for both crystalline silicon and thin-film technologies. In addition, the organic photovoltaics field is attracting numerous new players and the number of applicants is a good indicator for measuring this afflux (nearly 130 players inventoried in the study on which this article is based filed at least one patent in this field in 2006, compared to nearly 110 in the crystalline silicon segment and 120 in the thin-film segment).

 

Figure 9. Evolution in filings by technology (Source: FIST SA)

 

For instance, industrial concerns as well as academic players are putting in place active and ambitious intellectual property policies so as to be able to penetrate this emerging market under the best possible conditions. Two major types of strategies are set against each other, namely:

● Large companies that benefit from the proximity of the technologies that they have developed for their original business but which can be adapted to organic photovoltaics technology.

● Companies that are uniquely focused on the sector.

Organic and hybrid photovoltaics thus enables industrial synergies between sectors that is already well in place but still seeking new sources of growth, such as the printing sector, automobile component manufacturers or instead leaders in the electronics industry. Among these various interested parties, Japanese players cannot be ignored in the patent landscape with 66% of priority filings. FUJIFILM has filed in its own name the largest number of patent applications in the field. It is characteristic of the attraction for industrial firms that are involved in the organic and hybrid photovoltaic field even though it is not their core business (FUJIFILM’s first patent application in the field inventoried in the study dates from 1997). Most of the main Japanese applicants, such as SONY, TOYOTA, AISIN and DAINIPPON PRINTING LTD, are in the same situation. Other companies outside of the photovoltaic field (such as SAMSUNG, BASF and NGK SPARK PLUG) have followed, from 2003 onwards, the example of Japanese giants.

 

Figure 10. Types of cells of the major players (Source: FIST SA)

 

In parallel with this trend, several companies are specialized in this segment. These are young companies with a strong technological footing often resulting from spin-offs from public or para-public research organizations. These companies are well established and have set up collaboration networks.

The American companies KONARKA, PLEXTRONICS, SOLEXANT or the Russian company CRYSCADE are good examples in this respect.

A very high mobilization of governments via their research institutes or universities that encourage innovation and have an active filing policy may also be observed in this sector. In fact, 70% of the priority patents stemming from the Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese patent offices are academic patents, compared to 40% in Europe and in the United States. Only Japan does not show this characteristic in terms of patent filings but the government has nevertheless put in place a research program, via NEDO, from the start of the 1990s on the topic of DSSCs. This policy has moreover been integrated by the most dynamic industrial players because they have a common characteristic: they are open towards research institutes and have in most cases licences for patents on technologies stemming from public institutions or instead long-term research collaborations (licences between EPFL and KONARKA, the UNIVERSITY OF PRINCETON and GLOBAL PHOTONIC ENERGY CORP or between the UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA and SOLEXANT).

A non-negligible phenomenon has been underway for several years and is now drastically changing the patent landscape in the sector. For instance, out of the 1858 families of patents inventoried in the “organic and hybrid” photovoltaic sector, the arrival of new Chinese and especially South Korean industrial and institutional players is a lot more marked than for other photovoltaic technologies. In 2006, Korean players filed 14% of patent applications, i.e., as many as American players even though the first Korean priority patents filed only appeared in 2001! The KIPO (Korean Intellectual Property Office) has moreover announced an increase in filings concerning the photovoltaics field of 60% between 2004 and 2008. KERI (Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute) now has the third largest institutional patent portfolio after AIST (Agency of Industrial Science and Technology, Japan) and CAS (Chinese Academy of Sciences).

 

Figure 11. Topics of the major players (Source: FIST SA)

 

These players, which mainly file on techniques linked to DSSCs, are thus becoming potential sources of innovations. They are going to attract funding, involving the creation of start-ups as spin-offs from these laboratories and the setup of subsidiaries of firms already specialized in the field, like American or Japanese companies (KONARKA or SONY), which have set up subsidiaries in European countries in particular to benefit from innovations stemming from local laboratories.

Taken as a whole, the points exposed above are all promising signs for the future of organic and hybrid photovoltaic technology: competitive technology, implication of public authorities in innovation, involvement of numerous industrial players and synergies with economic sectors already in place. These techniques are thus giving rise to numerous developments, which are recent and highly protected by patents still in force. This particularity implies the necessity of building up a portfolio of patents or obtaining a licence for existing portfolios so as to be able to establish a position in this sector, unlike more a mature sector such as the crystalline silicon sector, certain technologies of which are already in the public domain.

 

 

FIST IP Overview team (www.frinnov.fr) is expert in IP analysis and in the positioning of patent portfolio in many fields (memories, optical components, microscopy, HIV/AIDS, CDK inhibitors, Malaria, carbon nanotubes, green solvents, liquids effluents treatment, antenna, medical imaging, etc.). They developed the IP Overview product in 2008.

  

 

For more information, please send your e-mails to pved@infothe.com.

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