Sixty-four percent of semiconductor photoresist-related patent applications with the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) belong to Japanese companies, an analysis shows. Rates of 22% and 16% were also found for fluorine polyimides and high-purity hydrogen fluoride. The three items, which were subject to intensified export controls by Japan last July, are key materials in the South Korean next-generation semiconductor production process.
A Korea Patent Attorneys Association (KPAA) “special committee on source patent measures for the domestic production of material and component base technology” held an announcement at Cozy Moim in Seoul’s Seocho District on Sept. 27 to share findings from an analysis of the South Korean and Japanese patent situation for the three semiconductor materials subjected to intensified Japanese export controls. The committee explained that the percentage of South Korean patent applications by Japanese companies was significantly higher than the percentage of Japanese patent applications by South Korean companies.
According to the analysis, 22% of fluorine polyimide patent applications with KIPO belonged to Japanese companies, whereas South Korean businesses accounted for just 10% of patent applications for the same items with the Japan Patent Office (JPO). In the case of photoresist, Japanese companies accounted for 64% of all patent applications with KIPO, while South Korean companies accounted for just 3.73% with JPO. Sixteen percent of high-purity hydrogen fluoride patent submissions in South Korea belonged to Japanese companies, versus 1% of patent submissions in Japan belonging to South Korean companies. KPAA added that its own investigation found none of the 112 polyimide-related patent submissions by domestic research institutions – including the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology, KAIST, and the Yonsei University industry-university research center – to have been registered with JPO.
“This does represent the greater competitiveness of the Japanese semiconductor materials industry compared with South Korea, but it also shows that Japanese companies are more proactive than South Korean ones about applying to patents,” explained patent attorney Cho Woo-je, who delivered the presentation.
“According to 2018 statistics for the world’s five main patent agencies, there was a difference of as much as 3.5 times between Japan’s overseas application volume and South Korea’s,” Cho added, calling this “evidence that Japan’s overseas patent application activities are more prolific than South Korea’s.”
Japan’s aggressive approach to overseas patent application in preparation for future patent suits
Japan’s aggressive approach to overseas patent application was also evident in cases from individual companies. Asahi Kasei, a Japanese company that makes polyimide precursors, has broadened the scope of its rights in South Korea by applying for multiple patents in South Korea for a single Japanese patent, or including actual uses and products for patented technology in its submissions. Even in cases where production was belatedly started on a product, the company filed for patents on improvements in the manufacturing process. Another Japanese company, JSR, filed for 10 patents with KIPO five years after beginning development in 2015 on photoresist for extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV). A patent application by Shin-Etsu included the results of E-beam usage in the experimentation process.
“What we can see here is that Japanese companies are working to use the South Korean patent system to acquire the maximum rights through approaches like review requests, splitting of submissions, and requests for uses and products,” Cho explained.
“When the scope of patent application is broadened to uses and products, there is the possibility that even when a material or component company avoids a previous patent, the actions in the final production stage by a semiconductor element company could be seen as a patent violation,” he said.
The committee warned of the potential for South Korea’s material, component, and equipment manufacturers to become embroiled in patent disputes with Japanese competitors.
“If you look at the patent dispute in 2010 between [Japanese company] Kaneka and SKC Kolon PI, a Japanese company that was getting crowded in the market used its patents as a weapon to file a suit against a competing material company,” Cho said.
Cho predicted that there would be “few cases of directly targeting client companies like SK Hynix or Samsung Electronics” – meaning a greater likelihood that South Korea’s smaller businesses will pursue their own patent disputes with Japanese companies as they build competitiveness in the areas of materials, components, and equipment.
“If you visit South Korea’s smaller businesses right now, there are still a lot of them that don’t even know how to read a patent statement,” he said.
“There’s interest in how [companies] will avoid previous patents, but a lot of them are hesitant because of the limits in terms of time and costs,” he continued. “This is a moment that calls for policy support from the government.”
Future tasks named by the committee included the pursuit of strategic patent applications by SMEs, consideration of intellectual property rights from the R&D stages, coordination between demand companies and material/component companies to avoid patents, and proactive patent applications by universities and state-run research institutions.
*Original article online at http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/912114.html