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Sharp-Samsung Legal Tussles Herald U.S. Marketing Race

Posted by: Ihlwan Moon on December 31, 2007

A recent spate of legal tussles between Japan’s Sharp and South Korea’s Samsung Electronics over LCD-related patent infringement heralds a fierce fight in the U.S. for a bigger share of the large screen TV market. The dispute comes as liquid crystal display TV makers brace up for a marketing blitz over the next couple of years for sets measuring 50 inches or bigger diagonally.

In the latest tit for tat, Samsung on Dec. 21 filed a complaint with U.S. International Trade Commission, alleging that Sharp and its U.S. subsidiaries imported and sold LCD products that infringe on four of Samsung’s U.S. patents. Earlier in the month, Sharp sued Samsung in a Seoul court for patent violations for LCD TVs and display panels. The Japanese company also filed suit against Samsung in the U.S. in August, while Samsung sued Sharp in Japan this month.

However, industry officials believe neither Sharp nor Samsung will be hit badly by the moves. Instead, such legal weapons aimed at protecting patents should keep smaller rivals and copycats at bay. Perhaps more importantly, the two LCD giants are fighting for the bragging right to demonstrate their leadership in the industry. Sharp is a pioneer in LCD while Samsung is now the world’s biggest LCD TV maker.

Their clash also underscores LCD’s growing importance in the flat TV market. Already, LCD has beaten plasma-display to emerge as the mainstream technology for the 30-in. and 40-in. flat screen TVs. Now the LCD camp is expanding its reach to ultra-large TV sets measuring 50-in. and bigger, a segment once dominated by rear-projection and plasma-display technologies. Over the next two to three years, Sharp, Samsung and Sony are due to introduce many 50-in. models.

Sharp and Samsung may well be waging a PR war over their technological supremacy in the U.S., the most important market for mega-sized TVs. That’s because Sharp and Samsung, which has a joint venture with Sony for LCD TV panels, are the only players now operating so-called eighth generation (G8) plants that are vital to make 50-in. TV panels at affordable prices. With many electronics companies pulling out of their rear-projection TV business and plasma technology being pushed to play second fiddle in flat TVs, the biggest battle to grab a bigger TV market share may well be among LCD players.

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