Using Boliven for a “Printed Electronics” Patent Search

I was recently exploring the patent search capabilities of and thought I’d share the results of a quick review of recent patents including the phrase “printed electronics”.  Simply typing the term “printed electronics” (including the quotes) into the search box returns over 3400 results.  These include patents and applications from US, Europe, Japan, Korea and the PCT filings.  To quickly get to just the patents you can use the analyze function and the top chart is an overview of the patents granted by year.

Clicking on the yellow sector of the pie chart takes you to the summary list of granted patents.  This list can be further refined by selecting only patents published in 2011 from the left hand filter options.  This reduces your list to the 57 patents granted this year.  The results are sorted by relevance and the third one in the list caught my eye and the brief summary showing where the  term “printed electronics” appears in the text is reproduced below.

I found the ease with which you can scroll down the results and quickly get a feel for the most relevant patents highly valuable.  You can access the full text of any patent and follow up on the detail.  The full result set can be exported or saved to a list for sharing with colleagues or for working on later.

To complete the story here is the first claim from the Soligie Inc. patent I found:

1. A process for creating electrical circuits or circuit elements using imaged gravure printing plates, the process comprising: obtaining a gravure printing plate imaged by etching a substantially flat plate; mounting the imaged gravure printing plate to a printing apparatus, wherein the imaged gravure printing plate comprises an image configured to create an electrical circuit or circuit element with features of 10 microns or less, and wherein the printing apparatus comprises a cylinder, and a carriage adapted to be moved into contact with the cylinder, wherein a substrate to be printed is mounted to one of either the cylinder or the carriage, and the imaged gravure printing plate is mounted to the other of the cylinder or the carriage; applying a material to be deposited on the substrate to the imaged gravure printing plate wherein the material is present in the etched areas of the imaged gravure printing plate; directly contacting the substrate with the imaged gravure printing plate to transfer the material from the imaged gravure printing plate to the substrate; and removing the substrate from contact with the imaged gravure printing plate, wherein the material forms a first patterned layer of an electrical circuit or circuit element on the substrate corresponding to the image of the imaged gravure printing plate.

Hopefully this has given you a brief insight into how easily the modern patent search tools can help you find relevant prior art or competitors’ patents to inform your own business or technology strategy.  Of course if you wanted to do a thorough analysis you would need to construct a much more comprehensive search term and use a combination of keywords and patent codes to be sure of identifying all the relevant material in the databases.  Post a comment if you want any more details on fine tuning this type of search.

NovaCentrix® Awarded U.S. Patent Critical for Sintering Metal Inks on Low Temperature Substrates

NovaCentrix, a leader in printed electronics manufacturing technologies were recently granted an U.S. Patent 7,820,097 entitled “Electrical, Plating and Catalytic Uses of Metal Nanomaterial Compositions”.  This covers in part the use of flash lamps to sinter metal-based inks and materials on low-temperature substrates such as paper and plastic and includes high-speed and roll-to-roll processing.  This process is critical to the advancement of innovative new products in photovoltaics, displays, RFID, sensors, batteries, capacitors, and smart packaging.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this technology is its scalability and economy.  Inexpensive flexible substrates can now be used.  Furthermore, processing can be performed at hundreds of feet per minute in a roll-to-roll environment,” said Dr. Kurt Schroder, Chief Scientist and lead patent author.  “In addition to processing silver, gold, and nickel used in conductive inks, the high speed process can sinter easily-oxidized particles such as copper in an ambient air environment, thus eliminating the need for a reduction furnace or inert atmosphere.  This room-temperature process enables truly inexpensive conductive traces for printed electronics.”

The claims are shown below and I have included the full set as they illustrate how the main broad claim 1 has been defined and the dependant claims used to expand on the materials, the substrate and the manner in which the printing process can be accomplished.

1. A method for sintering materials comprising: depositing a material on a substrate, wherein said substrate has a decomposition temperature below 450 degrees Celsius, wherein said material has at least one dimension less than 1 micrometer, wherein said material includes at least one metal; and irradiating said material on said substrate in ambient air by a flash lamp for sintering said material on said substrate, for a duration between one microsecond and one hundred milliseconds such that the conductivity of said material on said substrate increases by at least two-fold.
2. The method of claim 1, wherein said at least one metal is copper.
3. The method of claim 1, wherein said material is included within an ink formulation.
4. The method of claim 1, wherein said substrate comprises a substance selected from the group consisting of PET, polyester, polymers, resins, paper products, organic compounds, laminates, and combinations thereof.
5. The method of claim 1, wherein said depositing includes producing a film or pattern on said substrate from said material included within an ink formulation.
6. The method of claim 1, wherein said depositing further includes printing.
7. The method of claim 6, wherein said printing is selected from the group consisting of screen printing, inkjet printing, gravure, laser printing, xerographic printing, pad printing, painting, dip pen, syringe, airbrush, lithography, flexography and combinations thereof.
8. The method of claim 1, wherein said method further includes moving said substrate when said material is being irradiated by said flash lamp.
9. The method of claim 8, wherein said substrate is being moved continuously.
10. The method of claim 8, wherein said substrate is dispensed from a roll.

Roll to Roll Printing for Plastic Electronics

A recent newsletter from PolyIC (18th May 2010) highlights their technology for coating thin flexible films with transparent and conductive layers in a roll-to-roll process.  A press release from 6th October  2009 further describes the potential for this technology and provides some technical details around the high resolution capability (15 micron lines).  Applications include displays, touch sensors and heating elements.

Searching the patent literature reveals that PolyIC have a few US patents already granted and more in the pipeline.  The one most closely related to this appears to be US7479670B2.  While it may not be directly relevant it is useful in that it contains many references on the subject matter.  The first four claims relate to the material and are reproduced below:

1. An electronic component made from primarily organic material, comprising: an electrically insulating substrate and/or lower layer having a depression formed by a laser; and at least one electrical conductor track and/or electrode in the depression, the depression having steep walls, sharp contours and a relatively rough bottom surface, the at least one conductor track and/or electrode comprising at least one electrically conductive material for interconnecting electrical components on the substrate.

2. The electronic component as claimed in claim 1, having at least two conductor tracks and at least two electrically conductive electrodes and a distance l smaller than 10 μm between the two conductor tracks, the at least two electrodes and/or between a conductor track and an electrode.

3. The electronic component as claimed in claim 1 wherein the conductor track and/or electrode comprises at least one metallic layer or metal alloy layer.

4. The electronic component as claimed in claim 1 wherein at least one layer of the conductor track is organic material.

You will note that claim 2 makes reference to gaps of smaller than 10 microns between the electrodes or electrode and track, although the description in the main patent section refers to this distance being smaller than 20 microns.  Interesting.  The particular significance of this distance is for construction of FETs where the source to drain distance needs to be a minimum.  This patent may therefore be specific to manufacture of OFETs.

The next claims relate to the process and are reproduced below:

5. A method for producing an organic electronic component with a conductor track or electrode, the component having an insulating lower layer and/or a substrate, the method comprising treating the lower layer and/or substrate with a laser such that at least one depression and/or one modified region are formed in the lower layer and/or the substrate, then filling the depression and/or modified region with an electrically conductive material to thereby produce the conductor track and/or electrode from the electrically conductive material for interconnecting electrical components.

6. The method as claimed in claim 5, including the step of mechanically structuring the electrically conductive material.

7. The method as claimed in claim 5 in which superfluous electrically conductive material is produced, the method including wiping off the superfluous conductive material in a process step following the application of the layer.

8. The method as claimed in claim 6 including forming the at least one depression and/or one modified region with a pulsed laser.

9. The method as claimed in claim 6 which is carried out in a continuous roll-to-roll process.

10. The method as claimed in claim 5 wherein the electrically conductive material is metallic.

These reveal that laser or mechanical patterning is used to assist in the placement of the conductive tracks which must help to achieve the high resolution.  Exact details for how the roll-to-roll process is achieved are not given.

Flexible e-Paper Modules for Displays

AU Optronics unveiled a 20-inch e-paper display at the recent  FPD2009 (28 Oct 2009) along with their 6-inch flexible e-reader  They claimed this was the world’s largest e-paper display that can be mass produced and so I was interested to see what technology was being used and what patents had been granted.  It turns out that AUO are working with technology developed by Sipix and a quick look at the Sipix website provides a nice summary of the Microcup® technology and its use for electrophoretic displays.

The first patent applications for this approach were filed in 2000 but the granted patent that covers this technology is US7112114B2 which was published on 26th Sept 2006.  The first claim reads:

1. A process for the preparation of a semi-finished display panel, which process comprises the steps of:

a) coating a layer of a thermoplastic, thermoset or precursor thereof on a temporary substrate layer followed by embossing the coated layer with a male mold or imagewise exposing a layer of a radiation curable composition coated on a temporary substrate layer followed by removing unexposed areas, to form an array of microcups;

b) filling the microcups with a charged pigment dispersion in a dielectric solvent or solvent mixture;

c) top-sealing the microcups; and

d) applying a conductor layer or a permanent substrate layer onto the top-sealed microcups.

Fig. 6 from the patent shows a schematic of the process: