Eastman Kodak (NYSE: EK ) has been a major innovator in the field of organic LED displays for three decades. It wouldn't be unfair to call Kodak the father of OLED.
But the final chapter of Kodak's OLED history has been written. The company is selling its OLED technologies to Korean technology giant LG Group, which includes flat-panel display manufacturer LG Display (NYSE: LPL ) .
The deal is expected to close this year, and comes alongside a cross-licensing agreement between LG and Kodak. The companies have dropped a host of patent infringement claims and lawsuits against one another, and LG ends up paying Kodak for the privilege. Other than that, we have no financial details on either the OLED sale or the cross-licensing agreement.
The technology, which in the long run promises to make digital displays brighter, cheaper to run, and easier to manufacture than today's plasma and LCD technologies, is set to become a billion-dollar industry next year. For true long-term investors, OLED is under development for uses like flexible displays and general lighting, and could one day replace the light bulbs and fluorescent tubes we use today.
Kodak spokeswoman Laura Quatela explained that the OLED technology is "fundamental" to Kodak's business, but "realizing the full value of this business would have required significant investment." That's a nice way of saying that it's expensive to build out manufacturing facilities for new technologies. Samsung is arguably the leader in making these displays using phosphorescent OLED tech from Rule Breaker Universal Display (Nasdaq: PANL ) . Samsung only makes small OLED screens suitable for cell phones and such, and uses them in a low percentage of its mobile phones.
This is just another in a long line of acquisitions in the OLED space, which is starting to crystallize into a small band of companies ready to do the capital-intensive heavy lifting it takes to get OLED technology into the mainstream, and then into larger formats like television screens. Sumitomo, which is sort of like the General Electric of Japan, bought OLED research outfit Cambridge Display in 2007, and LG Display sucked in the OLED expertise from former parent company Philips (NYSE: PHG ) and LG.
Electronics giants like Samsung, Sony (NYSE: SNE ) , and Panasonic (NYSE: PC ) all have OLED ambitions and could benefit from having a veteran research team with a solid patent portfolio in-house. Economies of scale matter in expensive revolutions. Could Universal Display be next in the buyout line? Discuss the possibilities below -- and don't be shy! Each comment sends a $0.10 donation to a deserving cause.