Solar-powered watches have been on the market for a while. The first commercial products appeared in the 70’s and this technology attracted a lot of attention when Citizen released its first Eco-Drive model in the 90’s. Solar cell development for the watch industry (technology and integration) has also produced a large number of patent applications in several countries since the 70’s. CENTREDOC, a Swiss Business Intelligence company operating since 1964 for the watch industry, has collected and analysed all the solar-powered watch related patents. The result is a 70 pages Patent Landscape from which the following 5 facts are extracted.
#1 – Solar cell development for watch applications is a growing technology
The first patent on this topic has been applied in 1970, by the Japanese company Seiko Epson. Since this origin, 1’217 patent families have been issued on this topic. In 2014, last year for which a comprehensive statistic may be established due to the 18 months delay between a patent application and its publication, solar-powered watch related patent applications have increased by 9.6% in comparison to 2013. 101 patent applications were made worldwide in 2014.
#2 – Japan leads the way
As mentioned in the introduction, the first patent application related to solar-powered watch was made by Seiko, a Japanese company. This country stays the leader in terms of patent application number with 870 patent families, representing 71% of all topic-related patent families published in the world. Second is China (169 families, 14% of the total) and third is USA (58 families, 5%). Switzerland is 4th with 28 patent families (2% of the total). Despite a late start (2006), China is now second with a yearly increase of 42% in 2014 (Japan had a 6% increase between 2013 and 2014). 8 out of 10 top patent applicants are based in Japan.
#3 – Citizen is the most prolific patent applicant in the field
Seiko Epson was the first company to fill patents about solar-powered watches and remained the first applicant in terms of number of patents for almost 25 years. In 1993, Citizen (2nd to Seiko) initiated a R&D move that gave him the lead position over Seiko three years later (1996). These two companies remain the most dominant patent applicants in this field with 566 combined patent families, retaining together more than 46% of all published patent families related to solar-powered watch.
#4 – Most of patents cover cells technology or their integration in watch dial
37% of solar-powered watch related patent applications are protecting cell technology itself. 35% are about the integration of solar cells atop or under the watch dial. Integration on watch band is one of the most recent topic but draws a lot of interest from Chinese companies and is now the third topic with most patent applications.
#5 – Swatch is the only European company of the top 10 applicants ranking
With 31 patents related to solar-powered watch applications, the Swatch Group ranks 6th of the top applicant list. It is the only European company to enter the top 10 and one of the two non-Asian company of the list (the other being the US based Qualcomm who ranks 10th). Swatch Group was the third company to enter the patent game on this topic in 1976, after Seiko (1970) and Citizen (1973).