Universal Display wants to shine its OLED light on the world

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EWING, N.J., Dec. 22, 2003 — “See the light!” declares a sign in the company’s entryway. Universal Display Corp. (UDC) expects its screen technology to see the light of commercial day sometime in 2004.

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OLED stands for organic light-emitting device, and screens based on UDC’s technology are composed of several ultrathin films of special molecules that glow when excited by an electric current. The OLED approach boasts brighter colors and wider viewing angles than those based on current liquid crystal display (LCD) technology. They also promise to be more power-efficient and deliver smoother video than LCD. Because OLED molecules emit their own light, displays based on them could be cheaper, simpler and thinner than LCD screens that require backlighting.

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First-generation OLED screens from RiTDisplay Corp., Samsung NEC Mobile Display Co. Ltd. and SK Display Corp. have already begun to appear in a few digital cameras, cell phones and car stereos. Pioneer says its new display will employ UDC’s phosphorescent material for the red pixels in the red, green, blue medley required for full color.

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The research group DisplaySearch predicts that the OLED market will grow to $3.1 billion by 2007. But UDC’s progress has been almost a decade in the making. Kodak scientist Ching Tang first reported carbon-based materials that glowed when electrified in 1987. UDC was founded in 1994 to market the OLED research going on at Princeton University and the University of Southern California.

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UDC counts Sony, Samsung, DuPont, Motorola, Toyota and the U.S. Army, in addition to Pioneer, among its strategic partners. Such alliances are critical because its business model is to license its technology rather than make OLED screens.

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Kimberly Allen, director of technology and strategic research at Stanford Resources, a market research firm, said that UDC is well-positioned to succeed as OLEDs mature, but she noted that there are also a number of new players, such as Covion Organic Semiconductors GmbH, in Frankfurt Germany, with similar technology.

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“The market will have to sort out who has the best phosphorescent materials for the best price,” said Allen. She noted that Hitachi and Casio have also joined the fray, showing off full-color active matrix at recent tech conferences.

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UDC went public in 1996 with a $7 million stock offering and has raised more than $100 million more since then through investors, partnership programs and grants. In November, it was awarded $730,000 in Small Business Innovation Research Phase II funding to develop a flexible display on metal foil for military applications.

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Janice Mahon, the company’s vice president of technology commercialization, said that UDC is developing flexible and transparent OLED displays as well as working toward full-color, active-matrix screen technology that might find applications in larger displays such as laptops, computer monitors or small televisions. Flexible screens could, for example, be used on curved surfaces such as vehicle dashboards or for displays that roll up like a small movie screen. Transparent screens could enable displays on windshields or windows.

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Mahon said that UDC’s approach employs phosphorescent material, while its chief competitors, Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) and Eastman Kodak use fluorescent materials.

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The practical difference, said Mahon, is that the phosphoresent OLEDs require significantly less power.

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Mahon said the company is working with its partner, Aixtron AG toward a second-generation production process, organic vapor phase deposition, that offers advantages over current thermal evaporation techniques. In contrast, CDT’s OLEDs are made with a liquid polymer that could be sprayed onto a surface with a low-cost process akin to inkjet printing. DuPont Displays is working to blend UDC’s performance advantages with the low cost of CDT’s “printable” approach.

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Company file: Universal Display Corp.
(last updated Dec. 22, 2003)

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Company

Universal Display Corp.

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Ticker symbol

Nasdaq: PANL

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Headquarters

Princeton Crossroads Corporate Center

375 Phillips Blvd.

Ewing, N.J., 08618

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History

UDC was founded in 1994 by Sherwin Seligsohn to commercialize the OLED research going on at Princeton and USC. In 1996, UDC took a $7 million IPO. In 1999, the company moved its operations into what is now a 20,000-square-foot facility in Ewing, N.J. During 2003, UDC helped fund MIT’s research into the use of quantum dots in OLEDs.

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Industries served

Computing, consumer electronics, vehicle displays, military communications

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Employees

45, with at least 25 focused on R&D and technical development

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Small tech-related products and services

Rather than developing and marketing its own products, UDC develops and licenses its organic OLED technology to other companies.

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Management

Sherwin I. Seligsohn: chairman of the board and chief executive officer

Steven V. Abramson: president and chief operating officer

Sidney D. Rosenblatt: executive vice president and chief financial officer

Julia J. Brown: vice president, technology development

Janice Mahon: vice president, technology commercialization

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Revenue

$2.4 million in 2002

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Selected strategic partners and customers

  • Pioneer Electronics
  • Aixtron AG
  • DuPont Displays
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    Selected competitors

  • Cambridge Display Technology
  • Eastman Kodak Co.
  • Covion Organic Semiconductors GmbH
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    Barriers to market

    In order to be useful in devices meant to last more than a few years, OLED technology will need to make significant advances in lengthening the working life of materials, especially blue emitters. UDC’s small-molecule process also needs to achieve certain economies of scale in order to become competitive within an established LCD infrastructure.

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    Relevant patents

    Sealed organic optoelectronic structures

    Protected organic optoelectronic devices

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    Recent articles

    DuPont, UDC link on flat panel display technology

    OLEDs get ready to light up the market for flexible screens

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    Contact

    URL: www.universaldisplay.com

    Phone: 609-671-0980

    Fax: 609-671-0995

    E-mail: info@universaldisplay.com

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    — Research by Gretchen McNeely

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