KnowMade has published the global GaN electronics patent landscape for 2023, offering a comprehensive analysis of the intellectual property (IP) competition surrounding power GaN and RF GaN technologies. The report highlights a growing trend among industry players to adopt a common IP strategy for both power GaN and RF GaN technologies. Notably, companies like United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC) are expanding the application scope of their GaN electronics inventions, signaling a unified IP approach for RF and power markets. Established power GaN market leaders, including Infineon Technologies and Innoscience, are found to possess a substantial number of generic GaN electronics patents, indicating potential applications in RF technologies in the near future.
In the RF GaN patent landscape, the report provides a detailed analysis of key players' IP strategies. Wolfspeed (Now MACOM) has taken the lead in the global RF GaN IP landscape, particularly in circuits and applications. Mitsubishi Electric stands out as the only vertically integrated innovator competing across the entire RF GaN supply chain.
Key Takeaways in the RF GaN Market
- The RF GaN industry landscape has been reshaped by acquisitions and partnerships (IP, manufacturing) between well-established players in the RF industry.
- The deployment of 5G base stations is driving the RF GaN market, with GaN-on-SiC RF devices progressively replacing Si LDMOS in the telecom infrastructure.
- There is a growing interest for RF GaN-on-Si devices as the telecom infrastructure evolves toward lower power and higher frequencies (e.g., 6G applications).
- The opportunity to offer RF GaN technology at lower cost by leveraging the existing Si manufacturing lines and the GaN-on-Si platform is expected to drive the emergence of new players in the RF GaN market.
- RF GaN-on-Si technology is now close to enter the market. Yet many technical challenges remain to be solved for the large-scale adoption of the RF GaN-on-Si platform (incl. reliability, process maturity and scalability).
- Regardless of the platform, innovations at all levels – from epitaxy to devices, packaging and circuits – are still strongly required to fully unlock the potential of GaN technology in RF applications.
- In the field of telecommunications, US government has recently banned new equipment from Chinese players such as Huawei and ZTE, citing national security risk.
In this context, the GaN Electronics Patent Landscape report aims to understand what is the strategy of players to consolidate their position in the emerging power and RF GaN markets and to limit the risks and uncertainties related to the adoption, industrialization and commercialization of a new power and RF semiconductor technologies (investment, geopolitical and IP risks).
What’s more, the report identifies well-established IP players, IP challengers and newcomers, which are not yet in the power or RF GaN markets and thereby may represent either a threat (future IP and market challengers) or an opportunity to access external innovation (M&A targets, partnerships, IP licensing), depending on the perspective.
Eventually, the report positions early market players in the global IP competition, as these players are the most likely to assert their patents against new players entering the power or RF GaN markets, to maintain and expand their market leadership.
In the power GaN patent landscape, the report identifies a historical shift from Japanese to Chinese players dominating inventive activity. Japanese players such as Sharp, Furukawa Electric, NTT, and Fujitsu are strategically focusing on monetizing their power GaN IP portfolios. Meanwhile, Taiwanese players are gaining prominence, with major foundries actively participating across the power GaN supply chain. The US-China trade war has prompted Chinese players like Innoscience and Huawei to expand their IP activities globally, targeting markets in the US and Europe.
Infineon emerges as a key innovator in the power GaN IP landscape, employing a comprehensive global strategy through acquisitions and partnerships. In the US, market players prefer collaboration and partnerships, leveraging existing IP and know-how developed for other power semiconductor technologies.
Unlike the power GaN landscape, in the RF GaN space, US players exhibit a complete IP coverage of the RF GaN supply chain, reinforced by numerous startups actively filing patents in different segments. The competition in the wafer and epiwafer IP space is diverse, with various platforms like GaN-on-Si, GaN-on-diamond, GaN-on-engineered substrates, GaN-on-AlN, and GaN-on-SiC.
Click here to read the report on the GaN Electronics Patent Landscape in 2023.