Here it is mid-March 2007, and the SED soap opera continues. We are still in limbo with regards to the relations between Canon and Nano-Proprietary. The controversy swirls around a patent license for flat-panel displays covering surface-conduction electron-emitter displays (SED). These displays appear to offer better images than existing 1080p plasma and LCD displays providing brighter images, clearer images, and utilize less power consumption. I have seen several demos of this superlative technology.
A U.S. court based in Austin, TX ruled in February that Nano-Proprietary could terminate a license agreement that it had for seven years with Canon. Canon had planned on sharing the technology with Toshiba Corp., which was its partner in a flat-panel display joint venture to offer superior SED HDTVs in the U.S. (and possibly the world) market. The court did not address Nano-Proprietary's fraud claims against Canon in the ruling, which will be handled separately so that it can assess the size of damages due to the Nano-Proprietary in April. Obviously, the court would like to see Canon and Nano-Proprietary settle out-of-court, but, as it stands right now, neither side can seem agree on anything.
Reportedly, Nano-Proprietary has tried to meet with Canon to settle this issue, but, apparently, Canon is not responding. Canon believes that the court will eventually reverse itself, and that there will be no monetary damages and the fraud charges will be dismissed. However, it is understood that Canon might be re-thinking its commitment to SED. Canon's Chairman and Chief Executive Fujio Mitarai recently noted in a strategy briefing that he hopes to enter the flat TV market, but is interested in other types of flat displays including organic light-emitting diodes (OLED), which Sony Corp. also has under development. Supposedly, Mitarai as saying Canon is developing OLED technology with another maker and is also open to acquisitions.
On the other hand, if Canon is losing interest in SED, it leaves the door open for another company to come in and develop SED. South Korea's Samsung Electronics has shown an interest in SED technology, which is not surprising. Samsung is a very aggressive electronics giant with the goal of being the number one electronics company in the world. Currently, it offers DLP microdisplay, plasma, LCD, and CRT-based TVs. It plays in every TV arena. So, it's no surprise that it wouldn't want to develop SED technology. The company also realizes that to successfully compete, it needs to develop next-generation technology. It is known that Samsung is exploring Carbon Nanotube (CNT) displays and OLED technology as replacements for current TV technology. So, it's no surprise that it would also pursue SED, if it became available (and it apparently is).
In all of these soap opera proceedings, the big loser appears to be Toshiba. Toshiba set it hopes and dreams on SED. And, those dreams seem to be evaporating before its eyes. While I don't know the extent of their agreement and partnership with Canon, it would seem to me that Toshiba Japan should be negotiating with Nano-Proprietary for its own licensing agreement. Toshiba has already set-up and infrastructure for manufacturing panels in Japan, and then assembling them in the U.S.
Toshiba needs a next-generation display technology to get into the marketplace soon. While they produce excellent DLP microdisplays, they are not an innovator of the technology like Samsung or Mitsubishi is. Toshiba has also retreated from the plasma TV business as well as the CRT TV business. Currently, all of their collective eggs have been forced into LCD. And, I'm not convinced that it's really a good idea. While certainly their Regza LCD TVs look good, there are literally hundred of LCD display companies. How does one compete successfully against Sharp, Westinghouse Digital, Vizio, Sony, Samsung, and others? It was no surprise that Toshiba cancelled its line show this year because it had already introduced its LCD TVs at CES. At the same time, it's facing an uphill battle with their HD DVD. While I believe that HD DVD is superior to Blu-ray in image quality, we have seen from the past (Beta vs. VHS) that the superior format doesn't' always win. So, if Toshiba loses the next-generation optical disc race and has no next-generation displays technology to offer, where does that leave the company?
Stay tuned as the SED soap opera unfolds. We might even cal it "As the SED world churns."