SK Innovation reinforces its solid-state battery patent portfolio by acquiring ETRI’s patents

SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France – April 27, 2022 | Over the last few decades, the battery world has put a lot of expectation on solid-state batteries. Significant investments have been made to overcome challenges and reach performance levels compatible with market requirements. Recently, solid-state battery developments have been accelerating, and major companies are announcing their market adoption. The imminence of solid-state battery commercialization is leading to the structuring of a dedicated supply chain (production of solid electrolyte materials, electrodes, battery cells, etc.) and strategic moves on the part of companies.

This effervescence has resulted in intense intellectual property (IP) developments and players moving at all levels of the value chain (electrolyte, electrode, cell, pack and system). Today, the solid-state battery patent corpus counts for more than 12,000 patent families (inventions), of which more than 520 were published in the first quarter of 2022 alone. In such a dense and dynamic landscape, it is important to be aware of how the competitors move, and secure one’s IP position. All year long, Knowmade’s analysts investigate patenting activities related to solid-state batteries through a dedicated Quarterly Patent Monitor. “Patent monitoring allows you to detect opportunities and risks in technology and intellectual property early, and react quickly and accordingly,” says Fleur Thissandier, PhD, Technology and Patent Analyst Batteries & Materials at KnowMade. “By monitoring patent activity, you gain insight into the strategies and technologies adopted by large companies, identify new entrants that are going unnoticed, and uncover valuable start-ups that hold foundational patents on breakthrough technologies. This can help make strategic investment and/or collaboration choices to secure your position tomorrow”, affirms Fleur Thissandier.

Major battery manufacturers have different strategies to secure their IP and mitigate litigation risks related to their future commercialized solid-state batteries. Samsung and LG Chem have anticipated the move towards solid-state batteries and started R&D developments internally or in collaboration with other players, securing them by filing patents over the last decade. Some IP players are repositioning themselves in the landscape by focusing on emerging and promising technologies (e.g., Panasonic/Sanyo). Other IP players are entering the patent landscape by filing patents without a specific solid electrolyte choice (e.g., SVOLT, SAFT) or by reinforcing their IP position through the acquisition of patents (e.g., SK).

SK Innovation is involved in petroleum, alternative energy and oil exploration. Notably, SK Innovation develops and manufactures battery materials and battery cells. Over the last two years, SK Innovation has been restructuring its battery-related activities to support the growing demand linked to the boom of electrical vehicles. In October 2021, SK Innovation spun off its battery business named SK On.
SK Innovation/SK On has partnerships with major global automakers such as Hyundai, BAIC, Ford and Daimler. SK Innovation/SK On is also increasing its investment in a separator plant in Poland and Gigafactories in Korea, China, the US and Hungary, as well as in Turkey via a joint venture with Ford and KOC Holding named BlueOvalSK. More specifically, SK Innovation/SK On announced several partnerships on solid-state batteries with the University of Texas and Nobel Prize winner John Goodenough in 2020, Solid Power in 2021 and Georgia Tech in 2022.

Figure 1: SK Innovation’s solid-state Li-ion batteries patent portfolio overview.

Up to 2021, SK Innovation filed only two patent applications linked to solid-state batteries. One of them is dedicated to a spinel lithium manganese oxide cathode material coated with solid electrolyte (US8142932). The other claims a high-voltage solid-state battery cell without specifying the nature of the solid electrolyte (US11127985). In February 2022, SK Innovation/SK On acquired five patents from the South Korean Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) to reinforce its patent portfolio on solid-state batteries. These patents are in force in the US and Korea and are related to solid electrolyte materials, anodes and battery cells, as well as corresponding manufacturing methods.

The acquired patents claim a garnet oxide-based solid electrolyte (LixLa3M2O12) made using a dry mixing/annealing method (US9490500) or by hydrothermal reaction (US9461331). The others are related to a manufacturing method for  thio-LISICON sulfide-based solid electrolytes (Li9.7Al0.3Ge0.7P2S12) by dry mixing/annealing method (US9231275), a lithium composite anode with inorganic-polymer solid electrolytes (US20190074515), and a lithium battery with sulfide inorganic solid electrolytes (US9379383).

Figure 2: Cross-sectional view illustrating the lithium battery with sulfide inorganic solid electrolytes claimed in patent US9379383.

In addition to solid-state batteries, SK also placed its pawns in NMC cathodes and silicon anodes over the last decade. Like most battery manufacturers, SK Innovation/SK On commercializes pouch cells with NMC chemistry. In 2021, SK Innovation and LG Energy Solution reached a settlement in their year-long legal dispute related to Li-ion battery cells with an NMC cathode. SK built its patent portfolio on silicon anode materials and corresponding battery cells over the last decade. The company filed its first silicon anode-related patents in 2011, several of them being co-filed with the South Korean Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST). Last year, SK increased its investments in silicon anodes. The company founded a joint venture with Group14 Technologies, a global provider of silicon-carbon composite materials for Li-ion batteries founded in 2015, to build a factory for Li-silicon materials in South Korea with the aim to start commercial production in 2022. SK made a key investment in Nexeon, a British start-up specialized in silicon anode materials. SK also acquired several patents from Nexeon and Denso. Nexeon’s silicon anode-related patent portfolio is analyzed in our upcoming report entitled Silicon Anode for Lithium-ion Batteries.

Patenting activity in the battery field is very much thriving, and attractive at every level of the supply chain, especially on hot topics such as NMC cathodes, silicon anodes and solid-state batteries. In such a highly competitive and dynamic environment, it becomes increasingly critical to have good knowledge of the patent landscape and understand the strategy of the different players. As such, Knowmade publishes reports and sets up monitoring services in order to track and analyze the competitors’ R&D and IP strategies, to reveal where industry leaders, newcomers and start-ups are focused, and give an early view into the strategies they are pursuing, technologies they are investing in and products they are building.

Patent landscape reports on the same scientific topic.

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About the author
Fleur Thissandier, PhD, Fleur works for Knowmade in the field of Materials Chemistry and Energy storage. She holds a PhD in Materials Chemistry and Electrochemistry from CEA/INAC, (Grenoble, France). She also holds a Chemistry Engineering Degree from the Superior National School of Chemistry (ENSCM Montpellier, France). Fleur previously worked in battery industry as R&D Engineer.

About Knowmade
Knowmade is a Technology Intelligence and IP Strategy consulting company specialized in analysis of patents and scientific information. The company helps innovative companies and R&D organizations to understand their competitive landscape, follow technology trends, and find out opportunities and threats in terms of technology and patents.
Knowmade’s analysts combine their strong technology expertise and in-depth knowledge of patents with powerful analytics tools and methodologies to turn patents and scientific information into business-oriented report for decision makers working in R&D, Innovation Strategy, Intellectual Property, and Marketing. Our experts provide prior art search, patent landscape analysis, scientific literature analysis, patent valuation, IP due diligence and freedom-to-operate analysis. In parallel the company proposes litigation/licensing support, technology scouting and IP/technology watch service.
Knowmade has a solid expertise in Compound Semiconductors, Power Electronics, Batteries, RF Technologies & Wireless Communications, Solid-State Lighting & Display, Photonics, Memories, MEMS & Solid-State Sensors/Actuators, Semiconductor Manufacturing, Packaging & Assembly, Medical Devices, Medical Imaging, Microfluidics, Biotechnology, Pharmaceutics, and Agri-Food.