Printed Electronics using Graphene based Inks

When I spotted a recent granted patent with the title Printed Electronics, it was an obvious candidate for a Phil’s Patent Pick.  US8278757 was published on 2nd October 2012 and jointly assigned to Vorbeck Materials Corp. and Univ. of Princeton.  It was originally filed on 9th January 2009 and has a priority date of 5th February 2008.

The patent has quite broad claims and describes printed electronics devices made using a conductive ink comprising functionalized graphene sheets and a binder.  I don’t always reproduce the claims but in this case they are fairly simple to follow:

1. A printed electronic device, comprising a substrate comprising at least one surface, wherein a layer of an electrically conductive ink has been applied to a portion of the surface, and wherein the ink comprises functionalized graphene sheets and at least one binder.

2. The device of claim 1, wherein the substrate comprises paper and/or cardboard.

3. The device of claim 1, wherein the substrate comprises at least one polyolefin.

4. The device of claim 1, wherein the substrate comprises at least one polyimide.

5. The device of claim 1, wherein the ink further comprises at least one dispersant.

6. The device of claim 1, wherein the binder is a polymeric binder.

7. The device of claim 6, wherein the binder is one or more of poly(ethylene oxide), poly(propylene oxide), and ethylene oxide/propylene oxide copolymers.

8. The device of claim 1, wherein the ink further comprises at least one metal component.

9. The device of claim 8, wherein the metal is silver and/or copper.

10. The device of claim 1, wherein the ink further comprises at least one electrically conductive polymer.

11. The device of claim 1, wherein the ink further comprises at least one carbonaceous material other than the functionalized graphene sheets.

12. The device of claim 1, wherein the functionalized graphene sheets have a surface area of from about 300 to about 2630 m²/g.

13. The device of claim 1, wherein the functionalized graphene sheets have a surface area of from about 400 to about 2400 m²/g.

14. The device of claim 1, wherein the functionalized graphene sheets have a carbon to oxygen ratio of about 60:40 to 20:1.

15. The device of claim 1, further comprising one or more components selected from the group consisting of processors, memory chips, batteries, resistors, diodes, capacitors, and transistors.

16. The device of claim 1 in the form of an integrated circuit.

17. The device of claim 1 in the form of a printed circuit board.

18. The device of claim 1 in the form of a light-emitting diode display.

19. The device of claim 1 in the form of a radiofrequency identification device and/or a radiofrequency device antenna.

20. The radiofrequency identification device and/or radiofrequency device antenna of claim 19 in the form of a radiofrequency identification device and/or antenna for use with ultra-high frequencies.

21. A method for forming a printed electronic device, comprising the step of applying an electrically conductive ink to a substrate, wherein the ink comprises functionalized graphene sheets and at least one binder.

22. The method of claim 21, wherein the substrate is selected from one or more of paper, cardboard, polyolefin, and polyimide.

23. The method of claim 21, wherein the electrically conductive ink further comprises a carrier.

24. The method of claim 21, wherein the electrically conductive ink further comprises a dispersant.

25. The method of claim 21, wherein the functionalized graphene sheets have a surface area of from about 300 to about 2630 m²/g.

Phil’s Comments

It is worth looking at the examples in the patent.  The printing methods and samples generated for testing are pretty crude and suggest that only simple circuits have been generated such as RFID antennas.  The type of ink suggests that printing processes will be of the gravure or flexo type rather than ink-jet.  However, the wording of the allowed claims suggests that just about any printed electronic device containing a layer that includes graphene sheets with a functional group in a binder would infringe this patent.  The majority of the claims are all about the device and not the material.  The last five claims are about the method.  Vorbeck sell the graphene based inks and with this patent they will require anyone using the inks to enter into some form of agreement with them to make the devices.  It will be interesting to see how this works in practice and whether the patent will stand the test of time.

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