No one ever said developing a new technology would be easy, and it certainly hasn't been a straight road for Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL ) shareholders this year. There have been a lot of big moves, both up and down, and the company must still answer a few key questions before investors can be assured that it'll perform over the long term. Let's look at three of those questions now to figure out when answers might be offered.
1: How will the Apple-Samsung battle affect Universal Display?
Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) billion-dollar victory over Samsung immediately set off warning bells on Wall Street, and its stock took a big dive over fears that Samsung might be forced to cut its smartphone production. Samsung's use of Universal Display's technology is a major lifeline that could be strangled if the courts shut down Samsung sales.
However, many analysts (including Foolish ones) dismiss these fears as overblown. Even if Samsung's offending models are banned from the United States, the ruling doesn't cover other markets, and Samsung is certainly capable of designing around its new restrictions. The long-term impact on Universal's fortunes should be muted, if there's an impact at all.
2: Can Universal Display win without mobile?
Samsung, LG Display (NYSE: LPL ) , and AU Optronics (NYSE: AUO ) are three major customers, and Universal Display has a few other (largely Asian) supply agreements. However, successful mobile applications of Universal's technology have been largely restricted to Samsung's phones. Apple doesn't use this technology yet, and it would certainly represent a major coup -- but could Universal see even better gains from an iTV than an iPhone? One big-screen OLED TV could be worth dozens of smartphones to Universal Display, and those TVs are on the way.
Banking on TVs might not be a great long-term strategy. Corning (NYSE: GLW ) had great results from its big-screen Display Technologies segment, selling glass coverings to many of the same companies Universal's currently partnered with. But those fat margins have dwindled as an industrywide TV bust grinds on. Universal has plenty of patents on its hands but plenty of well-financed competitors that are hungry for a slice of the same high-def pie.
3: How much are Universal Display's patents really worth in the long run?
Universal's been busy adding to its patent trove, as it completed an acquisition of 1,200 OLED patents from Fujifilm this summer. It's not the only company with a significant number of patents, as my fellow Fool Anders Bylund points out. LG Display, in addition to working with Universal, also has more than 2,000 OLED-related patents of its own.
OLED patent-holders seem to be a much more collegial bunch than combative smartphone makers, but their technology probably doesn't suffer the same maddening combination of breadth and specificity as smartphone technology. Even so, Universal's had patent issues over the years, with a recent Japanese court decision causing a minor panic this May. Most of Universal's big clients are Asian manufacturers. Will Asian courts laugh at Universal's patent claims when a devious competitor decides to simply copy part of the company's technology instead of licensing it?
The answers to these questions may have profound long-term consequences for Universal Display's future, and it's important for investors to stay on top of the fast-moving world of display technology. Corning's a major display-tech bellwether, which is why The Motley Fool's devoted some of our best industrials analysts to exclusive premium coverage of its major moves and key initiatives. Don't be left behind when this sector goes to light speed -- invest in better knowledge now.