Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Investigating MEMS gyroscope patent situation

FRANCE: Through requests made to Micropatent and several other databases, Yole Développement has developed a unique methodology for defining not only the patent landscape’s technical segmentation, but also which patents are the most innovative, either for future preparation or for use in current production.

By blending its technical knowledge, business acumen and patent search abilities, Yole Développement has created the report, MEMS Gyroscope Patent Investigation. This report provides unique analysis and tremendous added value.

MEMS gyroscope patent landscape is heating up!
The gyroscope market is driven by mobile applications, where until recently only two players, STMicroelectronics (ST) and InvenSense, were competing. Now, many companies are present. The first patent disputes to develop over the last few years (linked to Wacoh’s patents) or that are currently occurring (ST vs. InvenSense) signal the beginning of a fight for gyro and inertial combo market ownership.

This analysis represents a link to the technical trends, Yole Développement has observed in the industry. Comparisons and matching between existing product process flows (reconstituted from teardowns) and related patents are provided. In particular, a case study on InvenSense’s MPU-9150 9-axis sensor is included.

As illustrated by the aforementioned disputes, (which are detailed in this report), IP is critical in this area; thus, the link between IP and market evolution is critical as well. One of this report’s most important findings is that the focus has shifted to the software side, where considerable value can be created. Indeed, an increasing number of companies with different value chain positions are developing functionalities based on MEMS gyroscopes, along with related IP.

Understanding key players’ patent portfolios
About 200 players are involved in MEMS gyroscope technologies, but the top 10 represent 63% of the patents filed! Panasonic and Murata lead the way. Both were early players in the industry, with piezo/ceramic style gyroscopes. Other players such as Analog Devices, Robert Bosch, ST and InvenSense developed their technologies based on silicon substrates and the capacitive detection principle.

It’s important to note that these players’ MEMS portfolios are generally much larger than what’s included in this report, since many of their patents are generic publications which can apply to many types of MEMS components, and not specifically to gyros. This report provides an in-depth patent portfolio analysis of the three assignees which Yole Développement identifies as today’s industry leaders: STMicroelectroncis, InvenSense and Robert Bosch.

For our MEMS gyroscope patent analysis, more than 4,700 patent families were screened:
* 53 percent of them were classified as relevant or related, and worthy of further study.
* A closer look revealed that intense patenting activity began in the late 80’s, stabilized in the 90’s and then increased over the past 10 years.
* The first MEMS gyroscope patents are quite old and the technology has evolved greatly in the past few years, so understanding the most recent evolutions is essential.
* “In domain” patents are mostly filed by firms and universities located in Japan and the USA. However, a significant portion of the actual business is done by German (Robert Bosch) and Italian (STMicroelectronics) companies.

The lesson: “Generating patents doesn’t mean generating business!”, conclude Laurent Robin, Activity Leader, Inertial MEMS Devices & Technologies at Yole Développement.

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