From Nicolas Baron, Co-founder and CEO, KnowMade, France.
The integration limit of flash memories is approaching, and emerging Non-Volatile Memories (eNVM) to replace conventional Flash Memories have been proposed. Ferroelectric RAMs (FeRAMs), Magnetoresistive RAMs (MRAMs), Resistive-change RAMs (ReRAMs) or Phase-Change Random-Access Memories (PCRAMs) are promising to change the memory landscape. The field of eNVM has shown an intensive patenting activity since early 1990s, with a substantial increase during the past decade. Currently, there are more than 8,600 relevant patent families filed all over the world. Patent families were filed by more than 800 patent applicants mainly located in USA, Japan, Taiwan and China. From a quantitative point of view, the most active companies are SK Hynix, Samsung, Toshiba, Micron Technology and IBM. In addition, startup firms do not file many patents and their main strategy is to license or sell their intellectual property.
Patents related to ReRAM technology account for almost 10% of new patent filings on eNVM. The basis of ReRAM technology was developed by IBM in beginning of 1970s, with a related patent on memory array composed of switchable resistive cells (US3761896). However, ReRAM is at an early stage of technology development and remains the newest patented memory technology.
The patenting activity of ReRAM is led by Samsung, SK Hynix, Sharp and Qimonda (CBRAM patents acquired by Adesto Technologies in 2010), and the first academic patent applicant is Beijing University (China). With over 100 patent applications, Samsung has shown interest in ReRAM technology since 2006, suggesting it will play a significant role in this emerging technology. In 2013, Crossbar, with over 10 patent families on ReRAM technology, announced some further commercial development.
Many joint development programs and IP collaborations were starting these last years. SK Hynix collaborates with Toshiba, Hewlett Packard and IBM. Sharp has joined development programs with Elpida Memory (acquired by Micron Technology) and AIST. Micron Technology has signed IP licensing agreements with Intermolecular and Rambus.
The ReRAM patenting activity has grown since 2004 and more than 150 patent families were published in 2013. The technology still remains at a R&D stage and the further industrial development will depend on more reliable structures. Currently, there are no major patent litigations in ReRAM domain. However, ReRAM is an emerging market and numerous actors show recent interest in this technology. Therefore, the number of patent applications will continue to increase in the coming years (over 1000 new patents are expected over the next 5 years), and we could witness the emergence of patent litigations.
Nicolas Baron, Co-founder and CEO, KnowMade, Sophia Antipolis, France, who can be reached at [email protected]