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Posted : 2011-06-02 17:21
Updated : 2011-06-02 17:21

Samsung, LG enjoy major tech break


An unnamed researcher from Samsung Mobile Display’s AMOLED production line checks an ultrathin display in this file photo. Samsung and LG aim to expand their presence in the ultrathin display market by developing and selling PHOLED materials, a critical component to manufacture such displays, after winning a material patent fight with U.S.-based UDC in Japan. / Korea Times file

Top LCD makers beaming after rival’s OLED patents are invalidated in Japan

By Kim Yoo-chul

Samsung and LG received good news from Japan recently that will help them widen the gap with their overseas rivals in ultrathin organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screens.

The Japan Patent Office (JPO) ruled against Universal Display Corporation (UDC) of the United States in another patent suit filed there after its phosphorescence (PH) material patent was invalidated in February.

The latest ruling from the JPO means that all three critical PHOLED material patents formerly owned by the Universal Display have been declared void.

``UDC lost the recent court battle in Japan, while previously as of March 23 two of its other material patents were invalidated. This is quite significant for South Korean OLED markers because it means that local firms can manufacture PHOLED materials without paying royalties,’’ said a fund manager from a European based investment bank in Seoul.

Samsung Mobile Display, which is investing heavily to boost its output of ultrathin screens, has been paying ``millions of dollars’’ to the U.S. company, annually, in return for using critical materials to make AMOLED panels, officials said.

UDC representatives in Korea weren’t available for comment.

The latest ruling from Japan is a big blow for UDC as it faced lose similar lawsuit results in Europe, patents experts told The Korea Times.

They said that patent offices in Korea and Europe are also close to nullifying UDC’s patents for PHOLED materials.

UDC is in an intensive court battle in Europe to prevent two key patents on the materials from being invalidated.

Also, Duksan Hi-Metal, a Korea-based developer of OLED materials, has recently brought UDC to the local patent office, asking for the invalidation of two PHOLED materials patents owned by UDC.

``It is highly likely that UDC will also lose the pending issues here, helping us to boost our client bases for OLED materials,’’ said a spokesman from Duksan.

Duksan has been in talks with several OLED majors outside the Korean peninsula to sell its PHOLED materials. But the spokesman declined to disclose the name of the lists.

``UDC is now worried about its PHOLED material business because other firms could produce and sell PHOLED materials free of royalties,’’ said Kim Sung-in, a senior analyst at Kium Securities, a leading local brokerage firm.

Local makers including Duksan, SFC and Rohm & Haas are expected to benefit from any ruling, according to Kim.

Breakthroughs

OLED is considered as the next big-thing for the flat-screen industry amid the flattening demand for existing LCD screens.

Samsung Mobile Display started production two months early at a new facility that will drastically expand its output of AMOLED screens, which are currently being used in phones, cameras, camcorders and other small electronics devices.

Samsung is spending cash on its AMOLED business as part of a strategy to enjoy a ``first-mover’’ advantage in the growing market. Samsung’s rival LG is also mulling the possibility of increasing spending.

``Samsung and LG are well-known as producers of finished goods. But they are buying key materials and components from Japan and the United States, which is a headache for them,’’ said Kim.

``The OLED business is expected to get strong growth momentum throughout mass-production of PHOLED materials for screens,’’ a Samsung executive said, asking not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

OLEDs has brightness and energy-efficiency advantages over LCDs. One key advantage is OLED screens emit their own light and don’t require a backlight as LCDs do, a key to their thinness.

The portion of materials takes up between 50 and 60 percent for an AMOLED panel, according to officials and PHOLED is regarded as more than crucial to boost the brightness.

Most leading OLED makers including Samsung Mobile Display, LG Display, LG Chem, AUO of Taiwan and Sony of Japan run strategic partnerships with materials producers, market research firm DisplaySearch said.

Universal Display provides its PHOLED materials to ChiMei from Taiwan, Sony and LG Display. Duksan bought a local OLED materials producer for 21 billion won in July 2008 for the development of OLED materials.

The usage of AMOLED screens is expanding from smartphones to tablets and monitors as consumers want to view much clearer images on their feature-loaded digital devices.



<단독> 삼성.LG `OLED 사업 날개 달았다’

삼성과 LG가 차세대 디스플레이인 능동형 유기발광다이오드 (AMOLED) 사업 주도권 굳히기에 나섰다. AMOLED 인광 발광재료 관련 핵심 특허가 일본에서 3건 모두 무효로 판결이 났기 때문.

AMOLED 시장에서 독점적 지위를 누리던 미국의 인광 (Phosphorescence) 발광재료 업체인 Universal Display Corporation(UDC) 일본 핵심특허 2건이 지난 3월23일 무효로 판정된 것이 코리아타임스 취재 결과 뒤늦게 밝혀졌다.

일본 특허심판원에 따르면 UDC 특허는 실제 발명보다 넓은 범위의 권리를 청구하고 있어 인광 발광재료에 관한 핵심 특허 2건 모두 무효라는 것이다.

이로써, UDC는 2011년 2월 인광 발광재료 관련 핵심 특허 1건에 대한 무효 판결 이후 나머지 2건의 핵심특허에 대해서도 무효 판결을 받아 일본에서 진행했던 3건 모두 패소했다.

이에 따라 인광재료 분야에서 UDC의 독보적인 기업 경쟁력이 크게 추락할 것으로 보인다.

익명을 요구한 한 업계 고위관계자는 ``이번 무효 판결은 현재 유럽에서 진행 중인 UDC의 핵심 특허 2건에 대한 판결에도 영향을 미칠 것으로 보인다’’며 ``일본 후지(Fuji), 이데미쯔와 같은 일본 내 AMOLED 인광 재료업체들은 값비싼 특허료 지불없이 인광 발광재료를 생산·판매할 수 있을 것으로 예상된다’’고 말했다.

인광 발광재료 개발 기술력은 있으나 라이센스 문제로 양산을 못했던 덕산하이메탈, SFC, 롬앤하스코리아 등의 국내 재료업체들 역시 값비싼 특허료 지불없이 재료 양산을 할 수 있는 길이 열리게 되었다.

전문가들은 유기발광 재료업체들의 활발한 인광 발광재료 기술 개발 그리고 양산화를 통해 AMOLED 산업은 지금보다 훨씬 강력한 시장 성장 모멘텀을 확보할 수 있을 것으로 내다보고 있다.

실지로 삼성모바일디스플레이(SMD)의 경우 UDC에 매년 지불하는 특허료만 수천억원대에 이르는 것으로 알려졌다.

삼성모바일디스플레이 관계자는 ``국내 AMOLED 산업 팽창의 새로운 전기가 마련됐다’’며 ``국내 AMOLED 재료 업체들도 신사업에 대한 새로운 돌파구를 찾을 수 있을 것으로 본다’’고 말했다.

국내 유기발광재료 생산업체인 덕산하이메탈측은 ``인광발광재료 수출을 위한 협의가 진행중’’이라며 ``일본 특허청의 이번 결정으로 현재 우리가 제소한 UDC의 한국특허 무효 판결도 기대된다’’고 말했다.

AMOLED 전체 패널에서 원재료 비중은 50~60%, 전체 재료비에 유기물질이 약 15~20% 정도를 차지하고 있다.

그러나 그동안 AMOLED 재료시장은 일본 이데미츠와 호도가야, 미국 UDC·다우 등 해외 업체들이 원천기술을 통해 선점해왔다.

LG화학·두산전자·에스에프씨 등 국내 업체들도 AMOLED 재료 사업을 추진해왔으나 대부분 형광 재료와 일부 공통층 재료 시장에 머물렀던 게 사실이다. 특허 등으로 진입 장벽이 높았기 때문이다.

AMOLED는 재료가 스스로 발광하는 자발광 디스플레이로 대형화, 장수명 증가 등에 있어 기술적인 진보가 요구되고 있는 상황이다.

AMOLED 제품의 전력 효율 증가를 위해 인광물질을 사용하게 되면 형광물질 대비 최대 4배의 효율을 낼 수 있다. 이 때문에 LG디스플레이와 LG화학, 소니 등 세계 주요 AMOLED 업체들은 대부분 인광물질에 대한 전략적 제휴를 맺고 있다.

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