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It looks like OmniVision Technologies (Nasdaq: OVTI ) is under attack.
I've been busy explaining how the company's back-side illumination (BSI) camera chips are the key to OmniVision's future, and how none of the usual suspects are even close to challenging OmniVision's first-mover advantage. But Sony (NYSE: SNE ) thinks otherwise: The Japanese electronics giant is investing heavily in camera chip manufacturing facilities.
The available sources don't specifically say that Sony is investing in BSI chips, but the chip volumes they're talking about point to products that Sony isn't making a whole lot of today. Bog-standard camera chips are a dime a dozen these days, and Sony has already made noise about increasing its market share of mobile image processors from 10% to 30%. Given these facts, I think it's safe to assume that Sony is going after OmniVision's bread and butter.
Before you panic and hit the "sell" button on OmniVision, consider that Sony, Panasonic (NYSE: PC ) , and other camera chip rivals already gave up on BSI technology once because they couldn't figure out how to make the darn things in a cost-effective way. OmniVision has built up a large lead in design expertise and isn't likely to share its secrets willy-nilly. The others may eventually catch up, but the next couple of years still look like a golden age for the company thanks to a large head start.
Whether Sony eventually closes the gap or just ends up throwing good money after bad, OmniVision holds a winning hand just as the smartphone phenomenon hits the tipping point, and is the camera chip supplier for trendsetter Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and its iPhone 4. The heavy lifting is already done in the form of BSI development, and now it doesn't take much to parlay that advantage into real-world business success.
Fellow Fool Tim Beyers likes OmniVision so much, he added the stock to his CAPS portfolio. I'm doing the same right now, because the market is overreacting to the Sony attack and giving me a nice entry point. This should bolster my All-Star CAPS status a bit, and you're welcome to join me right now.