Nichia files infringement lawsuit against Bridgelux LED distributor in Japan (UPDATED)

Feb. 22, 2023
Japan-based LED developer looks to defend its red-phosphor–based technology by blocking the sale of Bridgelux F90 LEDs by supplier CoreStaff, naming seven infringing devices in the suit.

LED developer Nichia Corporation recently filed a patent infringement lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court to seek damages and prevent the sale of specific Bridgelux F90 Series LEDs by electronics component distributor CoreStaff Co., Ltd. The suit alleges that seven Bridgelux components infringe Nichia’s Japanese patent no. 4974310, and is limited to the scope of the specified products in Japan.

The listed Bridgelux emitters include:

  • BXFN-30G-11L-3C3-00-0-3
  • BXFN-27G-11L-3C3-00-0-3
  • BXFN-40G-11L-3C3-00-0-3
  • BXFN-27G-21L-3C4-00-0-3
  • BXFN-30G-21L-3C4-00-00-0-3
  • BXFN-40G-21L-3C4-00-00-0-3
  • BXFN-50G-11L-3C3-00-00-0-3

Phosphor licensing and LED advances

Back in 2020, LEDs Magazine reported that then-GE Current and Nichia signed a licensing agreement that would allow Nichia to develop LEDs based on the TriGain narrowband red phosphor intended for use in the lighting market. TriGain is a trademarked name for a potassium fluorosilicate (PFS) phosphor technology owned by Current Lighting Solutions. PFS phosphors are sometimes called KSF for the chemical formulation name. TriGain achieves a narrow emission band that improves efficacy and cost for phosphor-based white LEDs by reducing wasted spectral emission outside of the human visual range.

Prior to 2020, Current had been the sole source of TriGain-based LED lighting products sold into the general illumination market, initially licensing its trademarked TriGain PFS for display backlighting applications. In late 2020, Nichia subsequently launched a packaged LED family that would be combined into what the company labeled the Circadian Tune platform — a phosphor-converted cyan LED with peak circadian spectral sensitivity paired with warmer, TriGain-based emitters with high color rendering index (CRI) for improved light quality in tunable-white, circadian-effective SSL products. It also released other new red-phosphor–based emitters.

Meanwhile, Bridgelux also licensed PFS technology from Current and launched its F90 LED devices in spring 2021. The company touted the ability of the surface-mount device components to “achieve today’s CRI80 LED efficacy with a CRI of 90” with form factors enabling a drop-in replacement for SSL manufacturers, and later introduced chip-on-board versions.

IP tug of war

Nichia America Corporation vice president Erik Swenson communicated with LEDs on behalf of the corporate parent, confirming that Nichia still licenses from Current and GE Lighting the ability to sell LEDs with PFS phosphor into general illumination. However, Swenson explained, “In addition to the intellectual property licensed from Current and GE Lighting, Nichia also owns over 120 of its own patents in the field of PFS at the phosphor, LED, and luminaire levels” and it is this IP which the company intends to protect in the suit against CoreStaff and, by association, Bridgelux.

Swenson further clarified to us that, at present, the trademark "TriGain Technology" is only allowed to be used by Current, GE Lighting, and to his understanding at this point, Nichia, with regard to Nichia packaged LEDs. "TriGain Technology has PFS/KSF, but not vice versa. Not all PFS/KSF has TriGain Technology," he explained. "[...] When we talk about it, we'll say the [Nichia] LEDs have PFS Phosphor + TriGain technology inside (plus other phosphors), whereas most other licensees have PFS phosphor inside (plus other phosphors), but not TriGain Technology."

Bridgelux has not responded to a direct request for comment from LEDs at the time of this publication, but the Fremont, Calif.–based LED manufacturer released a general statement within the past two days, saying the infringement claim is “entirely without merit.”

According to the statement, “Bridgelux respects the intellectual property rights of others and expects others to respect its intellectual property rights. Bridgelux will not be intimidated by the misuse of litigation from those seeking an unfair advantage or seeking to limit the advantage Bridgelux has earned from our technology investments.”

Bridgelux’s release goes on to note that “because Bridgelux’s patent portfolio covers many core LED technologies including some important KSF application patents, Bridgelux intends to employ its own patent portfolio to protect its rights.”

“We understand Bridgelux has licensed from Current and GE Lighting the ability to sell LEDs with PFS phosphor into the general illumination market. However, that does not clear them from Nichia’s intellectual property, which as I said spans across the phosphors, the LED, and the luminaire,” Swenson told LEDs.

This is not the first IP skirmish for Nichia. An ongoing dispute with Everlight Electronics included distributor Mouser Electronics, and has more recently targeted Everlight’s German subsidiary WOFI, with suits charging infringement against Nichia’s yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) patent for phosphor-converted white LEDs. According to a Nichia press statement from this past January, the Düsseldorf Court of Appeal confirmed the infringement by WOFI white LED products of Nichia’s YAG patent EP 2 276 080 (DE 679 40 795) in Germany. That judgment has not been finalized and is under appeal.

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CARRIE MEADOWS is managing editor of LEDs Magazine, with 20-plus years’ experience in business-to-business publishing across technology markets including solid-state technology manufacturing, fiberoptic communications, machine vision, lasers and photonics, and LEDs and lighting.

*Updated Feb. 23, 2023 for clarification of the permitted use of trademarked TriGain PFS.

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About the Author

Carrie Meadows | Editor-in-Chief, LEDs Magazine

Carrie Meadows has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing and media industry. She worked with the PennWell Technology Group for more than 17 years, having been part of the editorial staff at Solid State Technology, Microlithography World, Lightwave, Portable Design, CleanRooms, Laser Focus World, and Vision Systems Design before the group was acquired by current parent company Endeavor Business Media.

Meadows has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards, and has volunteered as a judge on several B2B editorial awards committees. She received a BA in English literature from Saint Anselm College, and earned thesis honors in the college's Geisel Library. Without the patience to sit down and write a book of her own, she has gladly undertaken the role of editor for the writings of friends and family.

Meadows enjoys living in the beautiful but sometimes unpredictable four seasons of the New England region, volunteering with an animal shelter, reading (of course), and walking with friends and extended "dog family" in her spare time.