(19)
(11)EP 2 198 471 B1

(12)EUROPEAN PATENT SPECIFICATION

(45)Mention of the grant of the patent:
27.09.2017 Bulletin 2017/39

(21)Application number: 08795595.1

(22)Date of filing:  26.08.2008
(51)Int. Cl.: 
H01L 51/56  (2006.01)
H01L 51/52  (2006.01)
(86)International application number:
PCT/US2008/010093
(87)International publication number:
WO 2009/032100 (12.03.2009 Gazette  2009/11)

(54)

MAKING A TOP-EMITTING OLED DEVICE

VERFAHREN ZUR HERSTELLUNG VON NACH OBEN EMITTIERENDER OLED-VORRICHTUNG

PROCÉDÉ DE FABRICATION D'UN DISPOSITIF OLED ÉMETTANT PAR LE HAUT


(84)Designated Contracting States:
AT BE BG CH CY CZ DE DK EE ES FI FR GB GR HR HU IE IS IT LI LT LU LV MC MT NL NO PL PT RO SE SI SK TR

(30)Priority: 04.09.2007 US 849398

(43)Date of publication of application:
23.06.2010 Bulletin 2010/25

(73)Proprietor: Global OLED Technology LLC
Herndon, VA 20171 (US)

(72)Inventors:
  • COK, Ronald Steven
    Rochester, New York 14650 (US)
  • BURBERRY, Mitchell Stewart
    Rochester, New York 14650 (US)
  • PREUSS, Donald Robert
    Rochester, New York 14650 (US)

(74)Representative: Wibbelmann, Jobst 
Wuesthoff & Wuesthoff Patentanwälte PartG mbB Schweigerstrasse 2
81541 München
81541 München (DE)


(56)References cited: : 
WO-A-2005/057681
US-A1- 2005 236 981
US-B2- 6 995 035
JP-A- 2007 103 098
US-A1- 2007 080 356
  
      
    Note: Within nine months from the publication of the mention of the grant of the European patent, any person may give notice to the European Patent Office of opposition to the European patent granted. Notice of opposition shall be filed in a written reasoned statement. It shall not be deemed to have been filed until the opposition fee has been paid. (Art. 99(1) European Patent Convention).


    Description

    FIELD OF THE INVENTION



    [0001] The present invention relates to top-emitting organic light-emitting diode (OLED) devices and, more particularly, to a method of making a top-emitting OLED device having improved power distribution in a light transmissive upper electrode.

    BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION



    [0002] Light-emitting diode (LED) devices, also referred to as electroluminescent (EL) devices, have numerous well-known advantages over other flat-panel display devices currently in the market place. Among these advantages are brightness of light emission, relatively wide viewing angle, and reduced electrical power consumption compared to, for example, liquid crystal displays (LCDs) using backlighting. Such devices may be made with light-emitting layers comprising organic materials or inorganic materials such as quantum dots.

    [0003] Applications of LED devices include active-matrix image displays, passive-matrix image displays, and area-lighting devices such as, for example, selective desktop lighting. Irrespective of the particular LED device configuration tailored to these broad fields of applications, all LEDs function on the same general principles. An electroluminescent (EL) medium structure is formed between two electrodes. At least one of the electrodes is light transmissive. These electrodes are commonly referred to as an anode and a cathode in analogy to the terminals of a conventional diode. When an electrical potential is applied between the electrodes so that the anode is connected to the positive terminal of a voltage source and the cathode is connected to the negative terminal, the LED is said to be forward biased. Positive charge carriers (holes) are injected from the anode into the EL medium structure, and negative charge carriers (electrons) are injected from the cathode. Such charge-carrier injection causes current flow from the electrodes through the EL medium structure. Recombination of holes and electrons within a zone of the EL medium structure results in emission of light from this zone that is, appropriately, called the light-emitting zone or interface. The emitted light is directed towards an observer, or towards an object to be illuminated, through the light-transmissive electrode. If the light-transmissive electrode is between the substrate and the light-emissive elements of the LED device, the device is called a bottom-emitting LED device. Conversely, if the light-transmissive electrode is not between the substrate and the light-emissive elements, the device is referred to as a top-emitting LED device.

    [0004] The EL medium structure can be formed of a stack of sublayers comprising organic materials that can include small-molecule layers and polymer layers. Such organic layers and sublayers are well known and understood by those skilled in the OLED art, for example U.S. Patent No. 4,769,292, issued September 6, 1988 to Tang et al., and U.S. Patent No. 5,061,569, issued October 29, 1991 to VanSlyke et al. Alternatively, inorganic materials may be employed to form the EL medium structure, for example including core\shell quantum dots formed in a polycrystalline, semiconductor matrix, for example, as taught in US 2008217602, by Kahen.

    [0005] Because light is emitted through an electrode, it is important that the electrode through which light is emitted be sufficiently light transmissive to avoid absorbing the emitted light. Typical prior-art materials used for such electrodes include indium tin oxide and very thin layers of metal. However, the current carrying capacity of electrodes formed from these materials is limited, thereby limiting the amount of light that can be emitted.

    [0006] In conventional integrated circuits, bus connections are provided over the substrate to provide power to circuitry in the integrated circuit. These busses are located directly on the substrate or on layers deposited on the substrate, for example on planarization layers. In complex circuits, multiple levels of bus lines are located over the substrate and separated by insulating layers of material. For example, OLED displays sold by the Eastman Kodak Company utilize multiple bus lines located on the substrate and on various planarization layers. However, these busses are not useful to provide power to the light-transmissive upper electrode in an OLED device because conventional photolithography techniques destroy the organic layers and a typically thin upper electrode employed in a top-emitting OLED device.

    [0007] U.S. Patent Application Publication 2002/0011783 A1 proposes to solve this problem by the formation of auxiliary electrodes in contact with the upper or top electrode. The auxiliary electrode may be either above or below the upper electrode. The auxiliary electrode has greater thickness and conductivity thereby increasing the current carrying capacity of the upper electrode. However, this approach has difficulties in that it reduces the light-emitting area of the OLED device and is difficult to manufacture. In particular, if the auxiliary electrode is formed before the organic elements are deposited, forming a good electrical contact between the upper and auxiliary electrodes is difficult, because the organic materials will be deposited on the auxiliary electrode. Moreover, undesirable moisture can infiltrate through materials at the corners of the auxiliary electrode and the conformal deposition of an additional upper electrode protection and encapsulation layer is problematic. If the auxiliary electrode is deposited above the upper electrode, a patterned deposition process is relatively difficult and liable to destroy both the upper electrode and the organic layers beneath it.

    [0008] A second prior-art method to address this problem is to use an auxiliary electrode, as proposed by U.S. Patent Application Publication 2001/0043046 A1 by Fukunaga et al. entitled "Luminescent Apparatus and Method of Manufacturing the Same." However, this approach requires a complex multistep processing method and suffers from the above-described difficulties.

    [0009] U.S. Patent Application Publication 2002/0158835 A1 by Kobayashi et al. entitled "Display Device and Method of Manufacturing the Same", discloses the use of auxiliary wiring elements which are electrically connected to a light transmissive second or upper electrode of an active matrix type planar display device. The auxiliary wiring elements are formed in the same layer or on the same surface as first or lower electrodes, and the auxiliary wiring elements are electrically insulated from the first electrodes. However, Kobayashi et al. provide no drawings describing process steps used in a method of making the device. Moreover, the electrical connection disclosed by Kobayashi et al. is formed between partition walls. The construction of suitable partition walls adds complexity to the process, reduces yields, adds cost, and limits the resolution of the interconnections.

    [0010] The use of lasers and other techniques to form patterns in integrated circuits is known. For example, U.S. Patent 6,468,819, entitled "Method for Patterning Organic Thin Film Devices Using a Die", describes the use of a die to form patterns and references the use of laser ablation to form patterns. U.S. Patent 6,444,400, entitled "Method of Making an Electroconductive Pattern on a Support", likewise describes ablation, including the use of infrared lasers. Other patents, for example U.S. Patent 6,433,355 issued August 13, 2002, entitled "Non-Degenerate Wide Bandgap Semiconductors as Injection Layers and/or Contact Electrodes for Organic Electroluminescent Devices", also describe the use of laser ablation for patterning. However, none of these methods address problems with power distribution in a top-emitting LED device.

    [0011] US 6,995,035 entitled "Method of making a top-emitting OLED device having improved power distribution" by Cok and VanSlyke describes a method of making a top-emitting OLED device, includes providing over a substrate laterally spaced and optically opaque lower electrodes and upper electrode busses which are electrically insulated from the lower electrodes; depositing an organic EL medium structure over the lower electrodes and the upper electrode busses; selectively removing the organic EL medium structure over at least portions of the upper electrode busses to reveal at least upper surfaces of the upper electrode busses; and depositing a light transmissive upper electrode over the organic EL medium structure so that such upper electrode is in electrical contact with at least upper surfaces of the upper electrode busses. However, such a method tends to form particulate contamination when the organic EL medium structure is selectively removed. The particulate contamination may fall over the EL medium structure and inhibit current flow through the EL medium structure after a subsequent deposition of the light-transmissive upper electrode. This will cause unwanted dark spots.

    [0012] US2007/0080356 describes a top-emitting display device wherein the organic layer is selectively removed by laser irradiation using a light absorption layer.

    [0013] US6995035 describes a method of making a top-emitting OLED device wherein a portion of the organic EL layer formed over the busses is removed by laser ablation.

    [0014] WO2005/057681 describes a process for removing an organic layer from conductive layers using a dry etching process.

    [0015] JP2007/103098 describes a process for manufacturing an OLED display wherein a portion of the EL formed over a bus electrode is removed by laser ablation.

    [0016] US2005/0236981 describes an OLED device wherein portions of EL layers are selectively removed by laser ablation. There is a need therefore for an improved method and structure for providing enhanced power distribution to the transparent electrode of a top-emitting LED device.

    SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION



    [0017] A method of making a top-emitting LED device, as recited in claim 1. It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a method of making a top-emitting LED device having improved power distribution.

    [0018] It is another object of the present invention to provide a method of making different classes of top-emitting LED devices having improved power distribution.

    BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS



    [0019] 

    Fig. 1 is a flow diagram describing an embodiment of the method of the present invention;

    Fig. 2 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to an example, not forming part of the present invention, at a first step of construction;

    Fig. 3 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to an example, not forming part of the present invention, at a second step of construction;

    Fig. 4 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to an example, not forming part of the present invention, at a third step of construction;

    Fig. 5 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to an example, not forming part of the present invention, at a fourth step of construction;

    Fig. 6 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to the present invention at a first step of construction;

    Fig. 7 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to the present invention at a second step of construction;

    Fig. 8 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to the present invention at a third step of construction;

    Fig. 9 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to yet another embodiment of the present invention at a first step of construction;

    Fig. 10 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to an alternative embodiment of the present invention at a first step of construction;

    Fig. 11 is a flow diagram describing another example of a method not forming part of the present invention;

    Fig. 12 is a schematic, top-view diagram of an LED device according to an embodiment of the present invention; and

    Fig. 13 is a schematic cross section of an LED device according to an alternative embodiment of the present invention at a second step of construction.



    [0020] The drawings are necessarily of a schematic nature since layer thickness dimensions are frequently in the sub-micrometer ranges, while features representing lateral device dimensions can be in a range from 10 micrometers to several 100 micrometers. Accordingly, the drawings are scaled for ease of visualization rather than for dimensional accuracy.

    DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION



    [0021] The present invention is directed to a method of making a top-emitting LED device. In top-emitting LED devices, light is emitted through an upper electrode or top electrode which has to be sufficiently light transmissive, while the lower electrode(s) or bottom electrode(s) can be made of relatively thick and electrically conductive metal compositions which can be optically opaque.

    [0022] As used herein, the term "light transmissive" when referring to an upper electrode or top electrode of a top-emitting LED device denotes an optical transmission of 50% or more of light directed perpendicularly at a surface of such electrode. The term "optically opaque" refers to lower electrodes or bottom electrodes, upper electrode busses, bus connectors, and bus connector pads, and denotes an optical transmission of less than 50% of light directed perpendicularly at a surface of such electrically conductive elements.

    [0023] The terms "pixel" and "subpixel" are generally used to designate the smallest addressable element of a display. For monochrome OLED displays there is no distinction between a pixel and a subpixel. In multicolor displays, or in full-color displays, a subpixel designates any portion of a pixel, which can be independently addressed to emit light of a specific color.

    [0024] Referring to Figs. 1 and 2, a method of making a top-emitting LED device, comprises: operation 100, providing over a substrate 10, a laterally spaced and optically opaque lower electrode 12 and an upper electrode buss 30 that is electrically insulated from the lower electrode 12, operation 105 depositing material forming an EL medium structure 14 over the lower electrode 12 and the upper electrode buss 30, operation 110, depositing over the EL medium structure a first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 that protects the EL medium structure 14 from particulate contamination, and operation 115, selectively removing most of the EL medium structure 14 over selective portions of the upper electrode buss 30. In various embodiments of the present invention, a plurality of first light-transmissive upper electrodes 16 and upper electrode busses 30 may be provided. In a further embodiment, the method of the present invention includes the step of operation 120, depositing a second light-transmissive upper electrode 17, (shown in Fig. 5) over, and in direct electrical contact with, the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16, so that the second upper electrode 17 is in electrical contact with at least an upper surface of the upper electrode buss 30. In one exemplary embodiment of the present invention, the second light-transmissive upper electrode 17 is thicker than the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16.

    [0025] Referring to Figs. 2 through 5, an exemplary method of forming a top-emitting LED device, not forming part of the present invention, is illustrated. Referring to Fig. 2, a substrate 10 is provided and a lower electrode 12 is formed on the substrate 10. An upper electrode buss 30 is also formed. Preferably, the lower electrode 12 is formed in a common, concurrent, manufacturing step with the upper electrode buss 30. An EL medium structure 14 such as a light-emitting layer, for example; comprising organic materials or inorganic materials such as quantum dots, is formed over the lower electrode 12 and the upper electrode buss 30. Other layers, for example, hole-injection, hole-transport, electron-injection, electron-transport, and charge blocking layers, may also be formed in layer 14. Such layers may be formed by evaporation or solution coating methods known in the art. A first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 is then formed over the EL medium structure 14. Light-transmissive upper electrode 16 may comprise, for example, indium tin oxide (ITO) deposited with a sputtering technique. Light-transmissive layer 16 is relatively thin, for example one nm thick, but less than 100 nm thick.

    [0026] Initially, referring to Fig. 3, once the initial top-emitting LED structure is formed, a portion of the EL medium structure 14 over the upper electrode buss 30 is selectively removed with a laser 40 to form a via 60 (shown in Fig. 4) for example by laser ablation. Laser ablation processes are known in the prior art. Referring to Fig. 4, a laser 40 emitting a laser beam 42 locally heats and vaporizes the EL medium structure 14, forming vaporized or ablated particles 15. Some vaporized particles 15A redeposit on the LED device. In a prior-art method described in US 6,995,035 entitled, "Method of making a top-emitting OLED device having improved power distribution" by Cok and VanSlyke referenced above vaporized particles 15A can re-deposit on the EL medium structure 14 in the absence of the light-transmissive upper electrode 16. Such re-deposition can damage the EL medium structure (particularly, if organic EL materials are employed) and can also prevent current from flowing through the EL medium structure as desired, resulting in dark spots (i.e., areas of reduced or no light emission in the LED device). As taught in the prior art, a particulate contamination removal system 50 may be employed to reduce the level of particulate contamination, but cannot wholly prevent such contamination. Hence, according to the present invention, the light-transmissive upper electrode 16 provides protection to the EL medium structure by preventing re-deposition of particles 15A on the EL medium structure 14. Moreover, the light-transmissive upper electrode 16 can provide some environmental protection to the underlying layers during the ablation process. Furthermore, particles 15A that do re-deposit over the light-transmissive upper electrode 16 will not inhibit the flow of current through the EL medium structure 14, since current can be conducted along the plane of the light-transmissive upper electrode 16, and not only orthogonally through it.

    [0027] The light-transmissive upper electrode 16 is relatively thin to enable selective removal of the EL medium structure over portions of the upper electrode busses 30, while still providing adequate protection to the EL medium structure from particulate contamination 15A. However, such a thin electrode may not be sufficiently conductive to provide adequate current for all LED devices such as a display. Hence, in a further embodiment of the present invention, the operation of selectively removing the EL medium structure 14 also selectively removes the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 over at least portions of the upper electrode busses 30 to reveal at least upper surfaces of the upper electrode busses 30 (see Fig. 1). Subsequently, operation 120 (also depicted in Fig. 1) deposits a second light-transmissive upper electrode 17 (Fig. 5) over the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 in the portions where the EL medium structure 14 is not selectively removed so that such second upper electrode 17 is in electrical contact with at least upper surfaces of the upper electrode busses 30 and provides additional current-carrying capacity to the upper electrode 16 of the LED device.

    [0028] In the example illustrated in Fig. 5, the second upper electrode 17 is thicker than the first upper electrode 16. The thinner, first upper electrode 16 provides adequate protection to the EL medium structure 14 from particulate contamination that might cause either or both chemical or electrical damage to the EL medium structure 14. At the same time, the thinner, first upper electrode 16 is thin enough to enable selective ablation of selected portions of the EL medium structure 14 and/or selected portions of the first upper electrode 16. The thicker, second upper electrode 17 provides additional current-carrying capacity (not explicitly shown). The thinner, upper electrode 16 may be, for example, 10 nm thick while the thicker, upper electrode 17 may be, for example, 100 nm thick.

    [0029] The light-transmissive upper electrodes 16 and 17 may be formed from transparent conductive oxides, for example, ITO or aluminum zinc oxide and may be deposited by sputtering or by chemical vapor or atomic layer deposition methods as taught in the art.

    [0030] In the present invention, operation 115 selectively removes the EL medium structure 14 over at least portions of the upper electrode busses 30 and causes the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 to become in electrical contact with at least upper surfaces of the upper electrode busses 30. Since the EL medium structure 14 is very thin (e.g. less than 100 nm thick) and the area over which the layer is formed relatively large (e.g. 100 microns), even a small amount of flexibility in the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 can cause the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 to become in electrical contact with at least upper surfaces of the upper electrode busses 30. In this embodiment (referring to Fig. 6, an LED device structure includes a substrate 10, an upper electrode buss 30 formed on substrate 10, and an EL medium structure 14 formed over the upper electrode buss 30. A first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 is formed over the EL medium structure 14. (For greater clarity, a lower electrode is not shown in Figs. 6, 7, and 8).

    [0031] Referring to Fig. 7, a laser 40 employs a laser beam 42 to heat the EL medium structure 14 and cause it to flow. By flow, in this context is meant that the materials in the EL medium structure 14 do not form vaporized gaseous particles, but rather are subjected to surface energy effects that cause the materials to move over the surface of the upper electrode buss 30; for example, creating a coffee-ring effect in which the material forms an open space in the center of the via 60 and greater amounts of material are present at the periphery of the via 60. Applicants have demonstrated: i) the use of localized heat and surface energy effects to flow organic materials out of a selected area and ii) forming a suitable via. In this exemplary embodiment, the EL medium structure 14 is contained between the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 and the upper electrode busses 30 when the EL medium structure 14 is selectively removed. Lower temperatures may be employed to cause the materials to flow over a surface (e.g. upper electrode buss 30), while higher temperatures may cause the materials to vaporize (as shown in Fig. 4).

    [0032] Referring to Fig. 8, a second light-transmissive upper electrode 17 may optionally be formed over the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16. However, in this alternative embodiment, the first light-transmissive upper electrode 16 may be much thicker (e.g. 100 nm thick) and a second light-transmissive upper electrode 17 may not be necessary.

    [0033] Referring to Fig. 9, in yet another alternative embodiment of the present invention, a heat-absorbing element 32 may be formed over or under the EL medium structure 14 in the area where the EL medium structure 14 is selectively removed. Such a heat-absorbing element 32 can be formed on the upper electrode buss 30 and may be electrically conductive or black. Applicants have demonstrated the formation and use of such a heat-absorbing element 32, for example, by employing metals or metal oxides such as chromium.

    [0034] Referring to Fig. 10, in other embodiments of the method of the present invention, electrically insulating material 34 are provided between each one of the upper electrode busses 30 and adjacent lower electrodes 12. Furthermore, as shown in Fig. 12 in a top view, a common electrical connection 31 may be provided between all of the upper electrode busses 30, so that a single electrical connection to a power supply may be employed. In addition, a common electrical connection may be provided between all of the lower electrodes so that a single electrical connection to a power supply may likewise be employed (not shown).

    [0035] Referring to Fig. 11, in other examples, not forming part of the present invention, removal of the EL medium structure may include one or more of the steps of heating (operation 200), exposure to a reactive gas (operation 205), exposure to a reactive chemical (operation 210), and exposure to reactive particles (operation 215). Such methods for etching materials or performing materials removal are known in the art. Mechanical means such as a particle removal system employing a vacuum may be used to reduce particle contamination.

    [0036] In accordance with various embodiments of the present invention, the method further includes the steps of making a top-emitting passive- or active-matrix LED device, or an organic or inorganic LED device.

    [0037] Useful electrically insulative substrates 10 include glass substrates, quartz substrates, plastic substrates, ceramic substrates, and substrates having an electrically insulative surface layer provided over an otherwise electrically conductive substrate body.

    [0038] The lower electrodes 12, and the upper electrode busses 30 may be made of a metal, a metal alloy, or of a multilayer metal sandwich, and are formed at a thickness (not indicated in the drawings) selected to provide sufficiently high electrical conductivity, long-term physical and chemical stability, and adhesion to the substrate 10 surface. Additionally, the selection of a metal has to be viewed in terms of a propensity to inject positive charge carriers (holes) into an EL medium structure 14. A metal having a work function ≥ 4.0 eV is considered to have acceptable hole-injecting propensity. Hole-injecting propensity can be improved by providing a hole-injecting layer (not shown) over the lower electrodes 12 (for a configuration in which the lower electrodes 12 are anodes). Particularly useful materials for forming a hole-injecting layer include conductive metal oxides such as, for example, indium-tin oxide (ITO), phthalocyanine compounds such as, for example, copper phthalocyanine, and plasma-deposited fluorocarbon materials (CFx).

    [0039] In view of the above considerations, particularly useful metals include silver, gold, platinum, iridium, tantalum, tungsten, molybdenum, nickel, and aluminum, or selected alloys, or sandwich structures of such metals.

    [0040] Various known methods can be chosen to provide the pattern of the lower electrodes 12, the upper electrode busses 30, bus connectors and bus connector pads (not shown). Among such known methods are printing, vapor deposition through a pattern mask, vapor deposition of a pattern defined by a photoresist pattern in a so-called "lift-off" process, and patterning a uniformly deposited layer by selective etching via a photoresist etch mask.

    [0041] The thickness of the patterned metal features renders them optically opaque. Upper surfaces can be optically reflective, with a level of reflectivity determined by choice of metal or metals and by micro-topological aspects of the upper surface.

    [0042] As indicated in Fig. 10, electrical insulation 34 is formed between the lower electrodes 12 and the upper electrode busses 30 so that upper surfaces (not identified) of the busses are revealed. The electrical insulation can be an organic photoresist material, which has been patterned by a photolithographic process.

    [0043] The EL medium structure can be a multilayer structure, which includes, in sequence, a hole-injecting layer, a hole-transporting layer, a light-emitting layer, an electron-transporting layer, and an electron-injecting layer. Such multilayer structures are well known in the art of designing and making organic and inorganic LED devices. The EL medium structure can include small molecule layers and polymer layers, as well as quantum dots formed in a common layer, for example such as a polycrystalline, semiconductor matrix.

    [0044] If the top-emitting LED device is designated to be a monochrome light-emitting device, one and the same EL medium structure is formed over all lower electrodes 12, electrical insulation 34, and upper electrode busses 30, and any heat-absorbing layer 32.

    [0045] If the top-emitting LED device is designated to be a multicolor device or a full-color device, the light-emitting layer of the EL medium structure is deposited selectively over selected lower electrodes 12. For example, a red light-emitting layer may be formed over some lower electrodes 12 and may extend laterally over adjacent electrical insulation 34. Green and blue light-emitting layers may be formed similarly. The light-emitting layers may overlap or abut over the insulation 34 or over the upper electrode busses 30. All other layers of the multilayer organic EL medium structure are commonly deposited over all lower electrodes, upper electrode busses, and electrical insulation.

    [0046] Selective removal of the EL medium structure 14, in an example not being part of the present invention, by selectively ablating the structure via laser beam 42, which is selectively directed at zones or areas from which the EL medium structure 14 is to be removed. Preferably, this ablative process is carried out in a chamber (not shown) held at reduced pressure. It will be appreciated that the process of ablation may include resublimation of materials (particularly organic), which may have been originally deposited by a sublimation process. Selectively ablating portions of the EL medium structure 14 can be accomplished by directing the laser beam 42 (e.g. a linear array of solid-state laser diodes) towards the upper electrode busses 30, and by providing relative motion between the laser light beams 42 and the substrate 10 and upper electrode busses 30. Referring to Fig. 13, selective portions of the EL medium structure 14 can also be ablated by providing a source of uniform radiation 43 directed towards the EL medium structure 14, and by providing a mask 36 between the source and the EL medium structure 14, with the mask 36 having mask openings 37 which are oriented with respect to the upper electrode busses 30 so that the mask openings 37 correspond to the location of the upper electrode busses 30. Thus, the uniform radiation 43 is defined by openings 37 in a mask 36. Alternatively, selectively ablating portions of the EL medium structure 14 can be achieved by directing one or more laser light beams 42 towards the structure 14 in registration with the upper electrode busses 30.

    [0047] The use of laser beams 42 and of other techniques of forming patterns in integrated circuits is well known. For example, U.S. Patent 6,468,819 describes the use of a die to form patterns, and references the use of laser ablation to form patterns. U.S. Patent 6,444,400 discloses ablation, including the use of infrared lasers. U.S. Patent 6,433,355 describes laser ablation for patterning semiconductor injection layers and/or contact electrodes for OLED devices. However, these publications do not disclose or suggest selectively removing an EL medium structure 14 during the fabrication of an LED device to create a via 60 for connecting a transparent electrode 16 to an opaque bus line 30.

    [0048] The light-transmissive upper electrode 16 can be formed of a thin metal film or of a layer of relatively transparent and electrically conductive metal oxides, or a combination of these materials. An electron-injecting interfacial layer, for example a lithium fluoride (LiF) interfacial layer, may be formed as an uppermost layer of the EL medium structure 14, followed by a layer of aluminum (Al). In combination, layers of these materials comprise the light transmissive upper electrode 18, as described, for example, in U.S. Patent 5,677,572. Other useful upper electrode material sets include, but are not limited to, those disclosed in U.S. Patents 5,059,861 and 5,059,862. The term transparent as used in this specification includes materials, which pass sufficient light to permit the LED device to operate effectively as a top-emitter. For example, alternative thin films of transparent electrode material useful for the present invention include indium tin oxide (ITO) in combination with an electron-injecting layer or alloys of a low-work function material with other metals or alloys, for example, Li/Ag, LiF/Al/Ag, and alloys of magnesium with other metals (such as MgAg, MgAl, MgSn, MgIn, or MgZn, with or without an additional layer of Ag or any other highly conductive metals or alloys).

    [0049] Optically transparent electrodes have been described in more detail in U.S. Patents 4,885,211; 5,247,190; JP 3,234,963; U.S. Patents 5,703,436; 5,608,287; 5,837,391, 5,677,572; 5,776,622; 5,776,623; 5,714,838; 5,969,474; 5,739,545; 5,981,306; 6,137,223; 6,140,763, 6,172,459; EP 1 076 368; and U.S. Patents 6,278,236 and 6,284,393. A transparent electrode is typically deposited by evaporation, sputtering, or chemical vapor deposition. When needed, patterning can be achieved through many well known methods including, but not limited to, through-mask deposition, integral shadow masking, for example, as described in U.S. Patents 5,276,380 and 6,221,563, and EP 0 732 868, by laser ablation, and by selective chemical vapor deposition.

    [0050] The electrical contact between the light-transmissive upper electrode 16, 17 and each one of the metallic upper electrode busses 30 provides for improved power distribution within the upper electrode 16, 17, thereby permitting the use of substantially light transmissive materials in forming the upper electrode 16. Stated differently, undesirable voltage drops along or across a light transmissive upper electrode 16, 17 can be substantially reduced or avoided by providing multiple electrical connections between such electrode and metallic, electrically conductive upper electrode busses 30.

    [0051] Upper electrode busses 30 can extend laterally along or across an entire LED device and may be disposed in spaces between laterally spaced lower electrodes 12. Each one of the upper electrode busses 30 is in electrical contact with the common light transmissive upper electrode 16, 17 to provide improved uniformity of current distribution or of power distribution in this common upper electrode.

    [0052] In the foregoing description, the process sequence of forming lower electrodes 12 and upper electrode busses 30, depositing an organic EL medium structure 14 over all features of a partial device, selectively removing the EL medium 14 from the upper electrode busses 30, and forming a common light transmissive upper electrode 16 in electrical contact with the busses, permits a simplified method of making different classes of top-emitting LED devices which have improved power distribution.

    Selective Removal of EL Medium Structure



    [0053] As described previously, selective removal may be accomplished, for example by laser ablation. One or more linear arrays of lasers, arranged in an integrated circuit, can be translated over the surface of the LED device, wherein the linear array is aligned with respect to the upper electrode busses 30 from which EL medium structure 14 is removed. Alternatively, the LED device can be translated with respect to a stationary linear array of lasers 40.

    [0054] Another method of selectively removing EL material includes using an optical mask 36 having openings 37 which are aligned with respect to the upper electrode busses, and directing a flood exposure of laser light 42 or light from another light source through the openings onto the device surface, so that EL material is ablated at the same time from all upper electrode busses 30.

    [0055] A further method of selectively removing EL material includes using one or more lasers configured to independently ablate EL material from upper electrode busses, and from other areas peripheral to light-emitting areas of an LED device.

    [0056] The EL medium structure 14 is relatively thin (for example, less than 100 nm) and is readily selectively removed. The structure is relatively transparent, but absorbs light or energy at selected wavelengths. The upper electrode busses 30 are typically made of a metal, metal alloy, or of a sandwich configuration of metals, and as such exhibit a level of optical reflectivity. Due to this reflectivity, the ablation process is stopped at the upper electrode busses 30, thus preventing ablation beyond the removal of the EL medium structure 14.

    [0057] It will be understood that the method of the present invention may be applied to different classes of OLED devices such as polymer OLED devices (either active- or passive-matrix), top-emitting passive matrix OLED devices, and top-emitting active-matrix OLED devices.

    PARTS LIST



    [0058] 
    10
    substrate
    12
    lower electrode
    14
    EL medium structure
    15, 15A
    vaporized particle
    16
    first light-transmissive upper electrode
    17
    second light-transmissive upper electrode
    30
    upper electrode buss
    31
    common electrical connection
    32
    heat-absorbing layer
    34
    electrical insulator layer
    36
    mask
    37
    mask openings
    40
    laser
    42
    laser beam
    43
    uniform radiation
    50
    particle removal system
    60
    via
    100
    Provide substrate operation
    105
    Deposit EL operation
    110
    Deposit first upper electrode operation
    115
    Selective removal operation
    120
    Deposit second upper electrode operation
    200
    laser ablation operation
    205
    reactive gas etching operation
    210
    reactive chemical etching operation
    215
    reactive particle etching operation



    Claims

    1. A method of making a top-emitting LED device, comprising:

    a) providing, over a substrate (10), a laterally spaced and optically opaque lower electrode (12) and an upper electrode bus (30) that is electrically insulated from the lower electrode;

    b) depositing material forming an EL medium structure (14) over the lower electrode and the upper electrode bus;

    c) depositing, over the EL medium structure, a first light- transmissive upper electrode (16) that protects the EL medium structure from particulate contamination; and

    d) selectively removing most of the EL medium structure over a selective portion of the upper electrode bus, wherein the material of the EL medium structure is contained between the first light-transmissive upper electrode and the upper electrode bus when the EL medium structure is selectively removed by causing it to flow out of a selected area without forming vaporized gaseous particles by employing a laser beam (42), whereby a via is formed, causing thereby the first light-transmissive upper electrode (16) to become in direct electrical contact with at least an upper surface of the upper electrode bus (30).


     
    2. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of depositing a second light-transmissive upper electrode (17) over and in direct electrical contact with the first light-transmissive upper electrode so that such second upper electrode is in electrical contact with at least an upper surface of the upper electrode bus.
     
    3. The method of claim 2, wherein the second light-transmissive upper electrode is thicker than the first light-transmissive upper electrode.
     
    4. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of forming a heat-absorbing element (32) over or under the EL medium structure in the area where the EL medium structure is to be selectively removed, optionally wherein the heat-absorbing element is formed on the upper electrode bus.
     
    5. The method of claim 4 wherein the heat-absorbing element is electrically conductive or black.
     
    6. The method of claim 1 wherein the lower electrode and the upper electrode bus are concurrently formed.
     
    7. The method of claim 1 further including providing electrically insulating material (34) between the upper electrode bus and the lower electrode.
     
    8. The method of claim 1 further including providing a common electrical connection (31) to the upper or lower electrode.
     
    9. The method of claim 1 further comprising: i) providing relative motion between the laser-light beam and the upper electrode bus deposited over the substrate.
     
    10. An LED device made according to the method of any one of the preceding claims.
     


    Ansprüche

    1. Verfahren zum Herstellen einer Top-emittierenden LED-Vorrichtung, umfassend:

    a) Bereitstellen, über einem Substrat (10), einer seitlich angeordneten und optisch undurchlässigen unteren Elektrode (12) und eines oberen Elektrodenbusses (30), der von der unteren Elektrode elektrisch isoliert ist;

    b) Abscheiden von Material, das eine EL-Mediumsstruktur (14) über der unteren Elektrode und dem oberen Elektrodenbus bildet;

    c) Abscheiden, über der EL-Mediumsstruktur, einer ersten lichtdurchlässigen oberen Elektrode (16), die die EL-Mediumsstruktur vor partikelförmiger Kontamination schützt;
    und

    d) selektives Entfernen eines Großteils der EL-Mediumsstruktur über einem selektiven Teil des oberen Elektrodenbusses, wobei das Material der EL-Mediumsstruktur zwischen der ersten lichtdurchlässigen oberen Elektrode und dem oberen Elektrodenbus enthalten ist, wenn die EL-Mediumsstruktur durch Bewirken ihres Ausfließens aus einem ausgewählten Gebiet, ohne verdampfte gasförmige Partikel zu bilden, durch Verwenden eines Laserstrahls (42) selektiv entfernt wird, wodurch eine Durchkontaktierung gebildet wird, was dadurch bewirkt, dass die erste lichtdurchlässige obere Elektrode (16) in direkten elektrischen Kontakt mit mindestens einer oberen Oberfläche des oberen Elektrodenbusses (30) kommt.


     
    2. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, weiterhin umfassend den Schritt des Abscheidens einer zweiten lichtdurchlässigen oberen Elektrode (17) über und in direktem elektrischen Kontakt mit der ersten lichtdurchlässigen oberen Elektrode, so dass solch eine zweite obere Elektrode sich in elektrischem Kontakt mit mindestens einer oberen Oberfläche des oberen Elektrodenbusses befindet.
     
    3. Verfahren nach Anspruch 2, wobei die zweite lichtdurchlässige obere Elektrode dicker ist als die erste lichtdurchlässige obere Elektrode.
     
    4. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, weiterhin umfassend den Schritt des Bildens eines hitzeaufnehmenden Elements (32) über oder unter der EL-Mediumsstruktur im Gebiet, wo die EL-Mediumsstruktur selektiv entfernt werden soll, gegebenenfalls wobei das hitzeaufnehmende Element auf dem oberen Elektrodenbus gebildet wird.
     
    5. Verfahren nach Anspruch 4, wobei das hitzeaufnehmende Element elektrisch leitfähig oder schwarz ist.
     
    6. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, wobei die untere Elektrode und der obere Elektrodenbus gleichzeitig gebildet werden.
     
    7. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, das weiterhin Bereitstellen von elektrisch isolierendem Material (34) zwischen dem oberen Elektrodenbus und der unteren Elektrode einschließt.
     
    8. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, das weiterhin Bereitstellen einer gemeinsamen elektrischen Verbindung (31) zur oberen oder unteren Elektrode einschließt.
     
    9. Verfahren nach Anspruch 1, das weiterhin umfasst: i) Bereitstellen von relativer Bewegung zwischen dem Laser-Lichtstrahl und dem oberen Elektrodenbus, der über dem Substrat abgeschieden ist.
     
    10. LED-Vorrichtung, die gemäß dem Verfahren eines beliebigen der voranstehenden Ansprüche hergestellt ist.
     


    Revendications

    1. Procédé de fabrication d'un dispositif LED émettant par le haut, comprenant :

    a) la fourniture, sur un substrat (10), d'une électrode inférieure (12) espacée latéralement et opaque sur le plan optique et d'un bus d'électrode supérieure (30) qui est isolé électriquement de l'électrode inférieure ;

    b) le dépôt de matériau formant une structure de support EL (14) sur l'électrode inférieure et le bus d'électrode supérieure ;

    c) le dépôt, sur la structure de support EL, d'une première électrode supérieure (16) transmettant la lumière qui protège la structure de support EL de la contamination particulaire; et

    d) le retrait sélectif de la plupart de la structure de support EL sur une partie sélective du bus d'électrode supérieure, dans lequel le matériau de la structure de support EL est contenu entre la première électrode supérieure transmettant la lumière et le bus d'électrode supérieure lorsque la structure de support EL est retirée de façon sélective en la faisant s'écouler hors d'une zone sélectionnée sans former de particules gazeuses vaporisées en employant un faisceau laser (42), ce par quoi un via est formé, faisant ainsi que la première électrode supérieure (16) transmettant la lumière passe en contact électrique direct avec au moins une surface supérieure du bus d'électrode supérieure (30).


     
    2. Procédé selon la revendication 1, comprenant l'étape de dépôt d'une seconde électrode supérieure (17) transmettant la lumière sur et en contact direct avec la première électrode supérieure transmettant la lumière de façon à ce que la seconde électrode supérieure soit en contact électrique avec au moins une surface supérieure du bus d'électrode supérieure.
     
    3. Procédé selon la revendication 2, dans lequel la seconde électrode supérieure transmettant la lumière est plus épaisse que la première électrode supérieure transmettant la lumière.
     
    4. Procédé selon la revendication 1, comprenant en outre l'étape de former un élément thermo-absorbant (32) sur et sous la structure de support EL dans la zone où la structure de support EL doit être retirée de façon sélective, optionnellement dans lequel l'élément thermo-absorbant est formé sur le bus d'électrode supérieure.
     
    5. Procédé selon la revendication 4, dans lequel l'élément thermo-absorbant est conducteur d'électricité ou noir.
     
    6. Procédé selon la revendication 1, dans lequel l'électrode inférieure et le bus d'électrode supérieure sont formés de façon concurrente.
     
    7. Procédé selon la revendication 1, comprenant en outre la fourniture d'un matériau isolant électrique (34) entre le bus d'électrode supérieure et l'électrode inférieure.
     
    8. Procédé selon la revendication 1, comprenant en outre la fourniture d'une connexion électrique (31) commune aux électrodes supérieure ou inférieure.
     
    9. Procédé selon la revendication 1, comprenant en outre : i) la fourniture d'un mouvement relatif entre le faisceau de lumière laser et le bus d'électrode supérieure déposé sur le substrat.
     
    10. Dispositif LED fabriqué selon le procédé selon l'une quelconque des revendications précédentes.
     




    Drawing





















    REFERENCES CITED IN THE DESCRIPTION



    This list of references cited by the applicant is for the reader's convenience only. It does not form part of the European patent document. Even though great care has been taken in compiling the references, errors or omissions cannot be excluded and the EPO disclaims all liability in this regard.

    Patent documents cited in the description