LED business news: FTC vs Lights of America; Intematix, Veeco, Synos (Updated)

Sept. 25, 2013
The Federal Trade Commision won a federal court ruling against Lights of America, while Intematix announces new green aluminate phosphor patents, and Veeco buys Synos to support OLED manufacturing.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has won a $21.2 million ruling against LED lighting wholesaler Lights of America with the US Federal Court ruling that the company falsified claims of light output and lifetime of LED retrofit lamps. Intematix has announced new phosphor patents in which the green aluminate (GAL) technology covered could enable high CRI solid-state lighting (SSL). In the OLED manufacturing space, Veeco Instruments hopes to expand its presence after acquiring Synos Technology.

Lights of America ruling

The FTC has prevailed over Lights of America in a case originally filed back in 2010 over the latter's false claims of long lifetimes for LED-based retrofit lamps. Legal news source Law360 reported that Lights of America made $21.2 million in wholesale revenue offering LED lamps through various retailers while knowing there was scientific evidence that contradicted the claims of lifetime and light output.

As we reported back in September of 2010, the false claims of light output and lifetime were the basis for the original action by the FTC. That court action, among other false claims early on in the SSL industry, led to consumer protection in the form of programs such as the separate Lighting Facts programs administered by the FTC and the US Department of Energy (DOE).

The latest ruling came from the Central District of the California Federal Court. The next steps are unclear given the complexities of the US legal system. The FTC has been charged with submitting a proposed judgment for compensating buyers of the products. The judge said that the company should be liable for an amount equal to the revenue it received selling the mischaracterized products. Lights of America, however, will surely appeal. There is also a class action lawsuit against the company scheduled to be heard by the California Federal Court on October 7.

Without question, early LED-based lighting had issues and was overhyped by a number of companies. Our original coverage of the Lights of America suit revealed that a product claimed to last 30,000 hours lost 80% of light after 1000 hours. Testing standards such as LM-80 for LEDs and LM-79 for lighting products had been established as standard means for defining the performance of SSL products, back in 2010. But broad adoption of those standards would come later.

Phosphor patents

Moving to the intellectual property (IP) area, Intematix has announced US patent numbers 8,529,791 and 8,475,683 that apply to yellow- and green-emitting, garnet-based phosphors. The patents include IP that could be applied in both general lighting application and in display backlighting.

Specifically the GAL phosphors can be combined with red phosphors to enable lighting with high CRI. "By using our GAL phosphors, LED solutions may be designed for efficient performance at CRIs greater than 90," said Yi-Qun Li, chief technology officer at Intematix." Indeed, Intematix said it has demonstrated CRIs as high as 98.

High CRI is especially important in applications such as retail and hospitality and in some cases is mandated by market-incentive programs. Intematix's Li added, "This technology is instrumental to meeting new standards like California's Quality LED Lamp Specification."

The California's Quality LED Lamp Specification is a program created by the California Energy Commission and lighting companies are starting to design products for that incentive program. For example, Cree recently introduced a 93-CRI retrofit lamp, specifically referencing the new California standard.

Also in the phosphor IP area, Yole Development recently announced a study covering the owners of phosphor-centric IP and concluded that many of those companies are pacing the SSL industry. We presented a feature article on the topic of phosphor IP in July 2012 written by Lily Li of IP Checkups.

Veeco acquisition

In the acquisition area, Veeco Instruments has announced the acquisition of Synos Technologies. The Synos Fast Array Scanning Atomic Layer Deposition systems can reduce OLED manufacturing cost.

"We have found a great fit to add to Veeco's technology portfolio and expand our growth opportunities," said John R. Peeler, Veeco's chairman and chief executive officer. "Synos is an early stage company with big growth potential. We believe that their fast-array scanning ALD technology for thin-film encapsulation layers will remove the primary barrier to adoption of flexible OLED displays, helping make unbreakable, lightweight mobile displays a reality." The company expects to ramp OLED production using the technology in 2014.