Sharp Corp. (6753), Sanyo Electric Co. (6764) and Kyocera Corp. (6971) top the ranking of solar-cell-related patents, but printing and chemical companies are quickly catching up, according to NU Intellectual Property Financial Services Co.
(December 10, 2010 – Nikkei Daily) — Sharp Corp. (6753), Sanyo Electric Co. (6764) and Kyocera Corp. (6971) top the ranking of solar-cell-related patents, but printing and chemical companies are quickly catching up, according to NU Intellectual Property Financial Services Co.
The Nihon Unisys Ltd. (8056) group firm used the numbers of established and pending patents to create the ranking.
Sharp, the No. 1 solar cell maker in Japan, was also No. 1 in the patent ranking. The company manufactures crystalline solar cells (c-Si) and thin-film solar cells. Sharp’s Sakai plant has been manufacturing film-based solar cells and is expected to begin producing monocrystalline cells in the fiscal year through March 2011. The new cells utilize Sharp’s proprietary arrangement of placing electrodes on the back side. The company has multiple pending patents on this structure.
Sharp is also working toward raising the energy conversion efficiency of solar modules based on the monocrystalline cells to around 17%, compared with less than 15% for conventional modules. The new cells are also thinner, requiring less materials. Sharp aims to sell them 20-30% cheaper than its conventional products.
Meanwhile, third-ranked Kyocera’s number of pending patents has been increasing sharply.
Canon Inc. (7751) sits at third in terms of established patents, but its overall ranking is one spot lower because it lags behind others in pending patents.
Canon launched its solar cell business in 1986, nearly a decade earlier than most other players. Seeing solar cells’ potential, Canon actively invested in R&D and obtained a number of patents. But the company withdrew from the solar module business in 2005 amid worsening profitability.
Today, Canon’s solar cell business revolves around sales of solar-cell manufacturing equipment.
Some printing companies and chemicals firms are carrying more pending patents, as they move into the solar cell business by applying their expertise.
Toppan Printing Co. (7911) secured the ninth spot. Pending patents dramatically increased as the company beefed up R&D efforts, including the 2008 tie-up with DuPont, as a step toward beginning full-scale production of back sheets and sealant in 2009.
Bolstered by growing demand for solar-cell-related parts and materials, Toppan Printing’s sales of back sheets roughly quadrupled on the year in the April-September period. The company plans to invest around 5 billion yen and lift its back sheet output capacity by 150% next spring. Over the medium-term, it aims to generate 60-70% of back sheet sales overseas, compared with the current level of 40%.
Buoyed by the growing interest in renewable energies worldwide, many companies that fared well in the ranking saw their share price jump more than 30% since March 31, 2009, beating the Nikkei Stock Average’s 22% gain.
Copyright The Nikkei Veritas, Dec 5.