by Jenny Donelan
In early December 2009, Eastman Kodak Company announced plans to sell the assets associated with its OLED business to a group of LG companies, setting off a flurry of interest and speculation in the display industry. Official details, such as financials of the transaction, were unavailable as Information Display went to press, and representatives from both Kodak and LG declined to comment for the time being. Kodak's announcement did, however, state that it would have continuing access to its OLED technology after the sale closed. In another press release distributed that same day, Kodak reported that it had signed a cross-license agreement that would end ongoing disputes between it and LG over various imaging patents and allow each other "broad access to each other's patent portfolio." Presumably, that means Kodak can continue pro-ducing its OLED-based products after the sale, but again, full details have not been released.
Kodak's sale announcement also quoted Laura Quatela, Kodak's Chief Intellectual Property Officer and manager of the company's OLED business, saying: "Our OLED intellectual property portfolio is fundamental; however, realizing the full value of this business would have required significant investment." When she referred to the company's OLED IP portfolio as "fundamental," she presumably meant its place in the industry as a whole, and if so, she was not overstating the case. Kodak has been a pioneer in developing OLED technology since the 1970s, and its related patents number in the hundreds. As analyst Paul Semenza wrote in his December 7, 2009 DisplaySearch blog (http://www.displaysearchblog.com/2009/12/kodak-exits-oled-business-after-30-years-lg-poised-to-compete-with-samsung/), "The vast majority of OLED displays produced to date use Kodak's technology and/or materials in some form." LG assuming control of those patents raises questions about how licensees will proceed in the future, particularly licensees who are competitors to LG.
When asked to speculate how that situation might evolve, Semenza said, "I can't imagine that LG bought this with the intention of being a licensor. It's not historically been their approach." One thing is certain, he added: a legal review will be necessary on all fronts. "There are a lot of different legal relationships in place."
About a week after the sale was announced, an article appeared in the Korea IT Times (http://www.koreaittimes.com/) stating that a new company with the working title of LG OLED would be formed with joint financing by LG Electronics, LG Display, and LG Chem. This move is being interpreted by industry experts as part of preparations for an OLED-market-share battle with Samsung Mobile Display. Because different OLED arms have existed within LG for some time, "It would make sense to have a focused organization," comments Semenza.
Two companies and a university are the recipients of a grant from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research to develop processes to lower the cost of manufacturing organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) lighting. Merck, a leading OLED manufacturer with headquarters in Germany; Applied Materials, a major nanomanufacturing company based in Santa Clara, CA; and Braunschweig University, the oldest technical university in Germany, will receive the approximately €3.26 million in funding to implement a 3-year project called Light InLine, or LiLi for short.
LiLi (www.liliproject.com) is designed to find solutions to known obstacles of OLED technology, including limited lifetime, lack of standardization, and high costs, by developing large-area manufacturing processes for high-performance organic materials and efficient device design. The ultimate goal is to develop ceiling lights for homes and offices that are more energy efficient and produce more uniform light than do fluorescent light fixtures. The work will take place at Applied Materials' facility in Alzenau, Germany, and will cost an estimated total of about €7.49 million. LiLi's industry partners will contribute the remaining €4.23 million.
This grant, announced in mid-November 2009, follows on the heels of another from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research earlier in the same month, which was to support the development of innovative, soluble materials for use in OLED components for devices such as televisions, traffic signs, and lighting systems. That project, called NEMO, for new materials for OLEDs from solutions, was announced by Merck KGaA and involves a consortium that includes, in addition to Merck, H. C. Starck Clevios, Ormecon, DELO Industrie Klebstoffe, the Fraunhofer Institute, the University of Tuebingen, Humboldt University, the University of Regensburg, and the University of Potsdam. The total cost of NEMO is an estimated €31.8 million; the ministry is providing €16 million of that amount.
These shows of hard cash on the part of both the German government and various industrial and educational institutions represent genuine interest in the future of OLEDs, according to Barry Young, managing director for the OLED Assocation. Although the project itself appears to be a continuation of work both Merck and Applied Materials have been doing, "What we're seeing here is a real focus on trying to make a breakthrough in OLEDs," he says, noting that the government is recognizing the importance of OLEDs and "trying to get it done faster." •