Thinfilm Buys Kovio, Goes Mobile With NFC Circuit Printing

Thinfilm's IT--plus that of Kovio--could prove to be a major connecting cog in the so-called Internet of things.

Printed electronics provider Thinfilm revealed Jan. 22 that is has acquired Kovio's technology, intellectual property and manufacturing assets and has opened the Thinfilm NFC (for near-field communications) Innovation Center in Silicon Valley.

Financial details of the transaction were not released.

Oslo, Norway-based Thinfilm uses printing to manufacture simple integrated electronics at a fraction of the cost of conventional electronics, in highly scalable processes compatible with high-volume, low-cost markets.

San Jose, Calif.-based Kovio, founded in 2001 under the name Nanotectonica, developed a high-performance printed silicon manufacturing platform that enables scalable, item-level NFC IT for branded product and retail markets.

Combined IP Could Become a Big Factor in IoT

Kovio also recently released an electronic article surveillance (EAS) product designed to improve retail experiences for shoppers while enhancing loss prevention for retailers. The NFC Barcode enables real-time, customizable interaction between consumers, brands and retailers.

Thinfilm's IT—plus that of Kovio—could prove to be a major connecting cog in the so-called Internet of things. Using its own methodology, Thinfilm has integrated sensing, data storage and display in a label format. The addition of a printed NFC interface from Kovio will allow Thinfilm's Sensor Labels to link sensor data to apps on mobile devices and/or cloud-based analytics.

NFC is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together or bringing them into proximity, usually no more than a few inches.

"Adding NFC to our printed electronic memory and sensor platform will allow the seamless exchange of information between Thinfilm's Smart Labels and NFC-enabled phones and tablets," Thinfilm CEO Davor Sutija said. "Kovio technology is the only industry-supported NFC interface in printed electronics."

Acquisition Enables Thinfilm to Go Mobile

Most current applications of IoT focus on fixed infrastructure, where the sensor is a static node at the edge of the network and data is routed to a central server. The addition of Kovio's IP mobilizes Thinfilm's entire business.
Low-cost, disposable sensor labels, which are able to autonomously collect information to later be read by NFC phones and tablets, offer a fundamentally different approach.

With more than 400 million NFC-enabled smartphones already being deployed—a number expected to grow to 1 billion by 2015—linking ubiquitous sensors on Thinfilm Smart Labels with the mobile platform creates a fluid and agile alternative to traditional data infrastructures, Thinfilm Senior Vice President of Development Jennifer Ernst told eWEEK. It is this agile network that will truly launch the Internet of Everything.
Thinfilm is following up the acquisition by launching its own innovation center in San Jose with a strong NFC team, significantly expanded intellectual property and pilot manufacturing, Sutija said. The center will open sometime in early 2014.

Gartner and other researchers have cited the Internet of things as one of the top 10 strategic trends of this decade. Analysts and industry vendors are predicting markets in the trillions of dollars by 2020: Gartner, $1.9 trillion; IDC, $8.9 trillion; and Cisco Systems, $19 trillion.

Industry giants such as Intel, IBM, Cisco, Qualcomm and NXP are placing major bets on IoT by developing new product lines.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...