Cree licenses white LED patent to Kingbright (update)
Cree's patent attorney explains the implications of the LED maker's recent patent licensing agreement with a Taiwan-based packaging company.
Kingbright is an LED chip customer of Cree, and the license authorizes Kingbright to manufacture and sell white LEDs that incorporate Cree chips. Cree says that Kingbright will be using Cree LED chips exclusively in its white LED products.
The license is one of several that Cree has granted under the "175" patent this year (see Cree licenses white LED patent to Stanley, Rohm, Cotco). The patent was filed in March 1996 and published in July 2003, and was acquired by Cree from Advanced Technology Materials, Inc.
"Cree's white LED technology provides major advantages to Kingbright's product line," said Wen Joe Song, Kingbright president and CEO. "Our target market includes major US and multi-national companies for which avoiding intellectual property disputes is critical. This agreement gives Kingbright a critical IP license required to address the rapidly growing markets for white LEDs."
Julio Garceran, Associate General Counsel for Intellectual Property with Cree, told LEDs Magazine that the '175 patent is important because it encompasses white LEDs using phosphors commonly found in white LEDs today. "The handful of companies we have licensed under this patent have the assurance that Cree will not assert the patent against them or their customers for selling white LEDs within the scope of the license," he said.
Garceran explained that a patent license only protects against infringement claims by the licensor (in this case Cree). It does not protect against claims by other patent owners, who may have patents that cover different aspects of the product in question. "Thus, the fact that an LED packager may have a license from a third party to use a particular phosphor in white LEDs does not protect that packager or its customers from the '175 patent," said Garceran. Equally, Kingbright's license with Cree does not protect Kingbright from claims of infringement by other patent owners.
Garceran says that over the past several months, Cree has notified a number of companies - including LED packagers, cell phone manufacturers and others - of concerns that the company appears to be offering products in the U.S. that are covered by the '175 patent. "We have resolved a few of those concerns but have ongoing discussions in a number of instances," he said. "You can expect that Cree will continue to identify and initiate discussions with companies selling products that may fall within the scope of our patent portfolio and will pursue all reasonable means to protect our IP investment."
A recent LEDs Magazine article entitled "Small companies fight for a foothold in white LED sector" highlighted the difficulty in understanding the different patents in the white LED arena, which sometimes appear to have similar and overlapping claims. Cree's various licensors clearly value the '175 patent, but its true value and applicability will probably remain unclear unless and until a patent disagreement is heard in court.