3M’s metal mesh touch screen patents and lawsuits interview

August 24, 2018  By Jennifer Colegrove, Ph.D. Principal Analyst, Touch Display Research Inc.

This week 3M announced a patent infringement lawsuit again a touch panel supplier Tovis, its subsidiary Tovis North America, and Scientific Games Corporation. The suit alleges that certain Tovis touch display products which are used by Scientific Games in their gaming machines infringe 3M’s U.S. Patents 8,179,381; 9,823,786; 8,274,494; and 8,704,799.

In the “ITO-replacement: transparent conductor market 2017 report, Seventh edition”, Touch Display Research profiled over three hundred companies working on non-ITO transparent conductors. Metal mesh is one of the most popular transparent conductor materials and is widely used in projected capacitive touch sensors for smart phones, active pen touch tablets and notebooks, and in large-format, digital touch signage.

Figure: ITO Replacement 2017 Report

Source: Touch Display Research Inc., ITO-Replacement Report, February 2017

Earlier this year, 3M filed a similar patent infringement lawsuit against Elo Touch Solutions Inc.

“3M invests substantially in research and development to create innovative products for our customers,” said Makoto Ishii, vice president and general manager, 3M Display Materials and Systems Division. “We will defend our intellectual property protecting those investments against unauthorized use and infringement by metal mesh manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers, and others making use of 3M’s intellectual property rights.”

Touch Display Research interviewed Mr. Scott Hagermoser, Global Business Manager of 3M Touch Systems about metal mesh patents and the lawsuit. I asked that since metal mesh is a widely used ITO-replacement transparent conductor, what was the optimal result that 3M expected from this legal action. Mr. Hagermoser indicated, “3M doesn’t want to be overly disruptive to the touch industry; we are not a patent troll organization. We offer to license our metal mesh technologies so we can get compensation for our investment.”

Metal mesh suppliers have different patterns and structures, such as one film with two sides of metal mesh, or two films where each side has one metal mesh.  I asked if it was possible that some metal mesh companies could avoid 3M’s metal mesh patents. Mr. Hagermoser indicated 3M had many claims in their metal mesh patents, and the details have to be left to the lawyers and engineers to figure out.

I asked if 3M is also suing Microsoft for the metal mesh, Mr. Hagermoser said that he won’t comment on that.

I’ve been the first industry analyst to write market research reports about the touch screen industry since 2006. When I saw the trends of new transparent conductive material used on touch screens, I published the industry’s first “ITO-Replacement: Transparent Conductor Market Report” in 2013. Many touch screen manufacturers, display manufacturers, OEM/ODMs are my good industry friends. I don’t like to see them sue each other. However, on the other hand, I don’t like the thought of intellectual property theft. We should play the game fairly. I recommend when your company manufactures or purchases metal mesh touch screens, you inquire if that touch screen is clear from others patents.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Jennifer Colegrove and team