Luxell creates thin film to enhance flat panel displays

TORONTO — As the next generation of flat panel screens creeps into the market, a Canadian company may have found a home for a technology which improves contrast and reduces reflection.

Luxell Technologies Inc., based in Mississauga,

Ont., has developed Black Layer, a semi-conductor-based thin film that resides behind the screen. In October of last year, the company was granted a patent by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which includes coverage for the incorporation of Black Layer into Organic Light Emitting Display (OLED) products.

In January, Luxell signed an agreement with Tohoku Pioneer Corp. of Japan to allow the latter to integrate Black Layer into existing and future OLED products. “”They were the first to market (for OLED) and know the most,”” says Luxell president and CEO Brian Kennedy, president and CEO.

Luxell also has deals in the works with Philips and Hitachi. “”We’ve talked to 90 per cent of the players, so we know what they’re doing, what their needs are,”” says Kennedy, who estimates a minimum of $23 million in Black Layer royalties over the next five to six years. The company aims to add a new OEM deal every quarter.

OLED is a growing segment of the flat screen market, according to Barry Young, vice-president and CFO of research firm DisplaySearch, based in Austin, Tex.

In the late 1990s, flat screens seemed ready to eventually topple their CRT (cathode ray tube) counterparts, said Young, but took a dive last year. Margins for vendors dropped from 40 to 50 per cent to below zero. “”(Last year) was very unusual in that it was a down year. Prices just dropped dramatically — not unlike the semiconductor industry,”” says Young.

Now the market appears to rebounding and margins are edging their way into the black. OLED and LTP (Low Temperature PolySilicon) monitors will likely prove to be the next wave in flat screen technology, since they demonstrate better performance over LCD and TFT and could be cheaper to produce in the long run, says Young. For example, according to DisplaySearch, LTP and OLED produce upwards of 300 pixels per inch (ppi) versus 80 to 133 ppi for LCD. Young estimates that the OLED market could be worth US$3.5 billion by 2007.

“”Where Laxell’s play is, once a manufacturer adopts Black Layer, it’s part of their manufacturing process,”” says Young.

Once a contract in is place, it takes a year for Black Layer to get into production with an equipment manufacturer due to the complex integration process and installing production line equipment, said Kennedy. Black Layer is not restricted to monitors; it works in all flat screen formats, such as cell phones, digital cameras and even watches.

In October, the company also entered into an agreement with Cambridge Display Techology (CDT), based in Cambridge, U.K. CDT is a commercial technology developer for light-emitting polymers (LEP). Under the terms of the agreement, CDT has acquired marketing rights to sub-license Black Layer for LEP flat panel displays.

There are technologies similar to Black Layer in development, according to Stewart Hough, vice-president of business development for CDT. Xerox is working on its own contrast-enhancing layer to reside behind screens, but with inferior results, he argues. Xerox’s technology is designed to absorb reflection whereas Black Layer creates interfering rays.

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