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Firms team to push display technology

Cambridge Display Technology joins MediaWorks in a program to help device makers add OLED screens to products that have traditionally used LCD displays.

Cambridge Display Technology will join chip-design company MediaWorks in a long-term development program aimed at helping device makers add polymer-based organic light emitting diode, or OLED, screens to future products.

The companies announced the program Thursday. The goal is to cut the cost and time required to design and market OLED versions of products such as cell phones and handhelds that currently use liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. The companies plan to provide chips and design blueprints that will ease integration of OLED displays.

"Manufacturers are often focused on getting products to market early, and not necessarily on optimum technologies," said Stewart Hough, vice president of business development at CDT, a U.K.-based intellectual property company. "Our role is helping to identify where our technologies can be used and work through the development issues so that we can introduce them to licensees."

Hough said products using technologies developed by CDT and Schaumburg, Ill.-based MediaWorks should hit the market within 18 months.

Analysts think OLED is the next-generation technology that will one day challenge LCD in the market for screens used in flat-panel monitors and notebook computers, in addition to cell phones and handhelds.

OLED displays don't require a backlight, allowing them to be thinner, brighter and potentially less expensive than LCDs. But, OLED technology is still in its infancy, and much of the infrastructure still needs to be set up, including large scale manufacturing plants and commitments from device makers to use the technology.

The CDT-MediaWorks deal and a recent announcement from Dow Chemical to expand a facility that manufactures polymers, a key component used in polymer OLED displays, should help bolster supplies and blueprints to device makers.

CDT has been working to expand the markets for its polymer OLED technology. In late July, it was awarded a grant from the U.K. government's Department of Trade and Industry for plastic solar cell research and development. The grant will help the privately held company develop efficient and commercially viable solar cells using its OLED technology.

The polymer OLED technology CDT promotes is one of two types on the market. Eastman Kodak has been developing and manufacturing displays based on the other, small molecule OLED. Polymer-based OLED has the potential to ease the manufacturing process because the polymers are liquid soluble and can be sprayed or printed onto a substrate, or base. However, small molecule-based OLED technology has a two-year head start on polymer and is more established in the market, with products such as cell phones already shipping using small molecule OLED displays.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.