LG InnoTek and Corning are collaborating in the research of liquid lens, their patent filings showed.
The pair had decided to share 50/50 stakes in nine US patents related to liquid lens on April 5, documents seen by TheElec showed.
Corning decided to share stakes in six of its patents with LG InnoTek: the South Korean company shared stakes of three of its patents with the US firm.
In South Korea, LG InnoTek had six of its patents registered as co-owned with Corning; the US glass firm made one of its patents co-owned by the South Korean firm.
Out of the sixteen patents now co-owned by the pair, the core technologies listed on them include liquid lens system, how to control a camera lens that include a liquid lens, and lens curvature varying instrument.
Liquid lens fill vinyl bag shaped lens with liquid material. The lens goes in and out of focus by manipulating the curvature of the liquid lens with current or voltage.
Unlike current lens that made out of glass or plastic, the lens itself doesn’t have to move to control the focal length.
If liquid lens are commercialized, this could reduce the number of lens and the size of the lens in camera modules.
Current camera modules on smartphone use multiple lens with different curvatures. Around six to seven lens are stacked together. Some of the lens in the stack could be replaced with liquid lens, which will make overall lens thinner. The number of other accessory components to activate the lens and power consumption also decreases. This also allows camera lens design to become simpler and easier to manufacture.
LG InnoTek and Corning has been filing for patents related to liquid lens since 2017. According to Kipris, a patent portal run by the Korean Intellectual Property Office, there were a total of 131 patents related to liquid lens in South Korea __ 85 of them were owned by LG InnoTek. All of LG’s patents were filed since 2016. LG InnoTek and Coring had 30 and 11 related patents, respectively, in China as well.
The pair’s collaboration seems to be for the long-term. The liquid in the lens are vulnerable to changes. Their characteristics previously changed during airlift transportation, which has limited their commercialization.
If this problem is solved, liquid lens could see applications in smartphones, wearable devices, automotive cameras, virtual reality and augmented reality, among other areas.
Alternatively, a person familiar with the matter said LG InnoTek could be researching liquid lens to overcome its weakness in folded zoom. Samsung subsidiary Corephotonics currently owns multiple patents on folded zoom, which uses prism to bend the light. Currently, it is difficult for LG InnoTek to develop its own folded zoom technology that workaround these patents.
Samsung Electronics and Samsung Electro-Mechanics had researched their own liquid lens technologies in the mid-2000s. But they have not filed related patents in the 2010s. Samsung Electronic only owns five patents related to liquid lens in South Korea. The last one of them was filed in 2010.
Meanwhile, besides liquid lens, ‘metalens’ is also being touted as the next-generation. Lee Shi-woo, senior vice president and director of Samsung Electronics’ Corporate R&D Institute, told reporters during the Nano Korea 2021 industry event in Seoul, that the company was researching ways to apply nano bumps on lens. Metalens is a flat lens that have nano particles aligned on its surface. Though the lens is flat, the particles bend the light to collect them. Like liquid lens, this allows for the lens to become thinner.