Other University Partnerships

OLED Family Primer

Corrections or additions?

This article by Phyllis Maguire was prepared for the March 5, 2003

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

UDC’s Bright New Twists in Flat Panel Display

It’s been a heady five years for Universal Display

Corporation. In those five years UDC — a leader in organic light

emitting device (OLED) display technology — traded a four-room

walk-up on Nassau Street for a 21,000 square foot state-of-the-art

development and pilot-production facility in the Princeton Crossroads

Corporate Center on Phillips Boulevard.

The company (www.universaldisplay.com) has garnered some heavyweight

media attention, with its future products being talked up in recent

issues of Time, Newsweek, PC Wired, and Forbes, as well as getting

video play on CBS News and MSNBC.

And the company — launched with the help of Princeton University

researchers, in what was the university’s first foray into taking

equity for tech transfer — now finds itself with some big-muscle

partners, signing joint development and commercialization agreements

with the likes of DuPont Display, Sony Corporation, Motorola Inc.,

Samsung SDI, and Pittsburgh’s PPG Industries.

"Five years ago, we were the crazy guys," says Steven V.


51, UDC’s president, one of the company’s original staff of four.

He now heads up close to 40 staffers. "People knew we worked with

a university team and raised a little money, but we used to have to

explain to them what the flat panel display industry was."

With that industry now valued at $30 billion — and expected to

hit close to $60 billion in 2006 — Abramson doesn’t have to


so much anymore about UDC’s potential slice of the booming electronic

display market. Instead, he and the rest of the UDC team are


a breakthrough technology from university "clean" rooms to

— very soon, they hope — your TV screen, your computer


and display screens on that cell phone you’re carrying around in your


UDC’s recent flurry of press focused on a prospective product the

company dubs the "Universal Communication Device." Imagine

a pen or a wand, from which you can roll out a thin sheet of plastic.

The pen would function as a cell phone, a PDA, a video screen, a


monitor, and a downloadable road map.

"The concept is that the screen will at least be large enough

to download information off the Web," says Janice Mahon, 46, UDC’s

vice president of technology commercialization since 1997. "You

could have a video conference with your boss or use it to watch a


The device has captured the imagination of not only technology


but of the military as well. Last year UDC got funding from the U.S.

Army Research Laboratory to develop the device as a flexible road

map — complete with a global positioning system and night vision

— in its Land Warrior program. The goal is to have a working


by 2006, with high volume use by 2010.

"But we obviously have a number of milestones to that end and

hope to demonstrate advances between now and that ultimate


Mahon says. Earlier generations of the device would probably not have

a full suite of applications — and could come in products that

don’t yet exist.

"Once we have displays on flexible substrates like plastic, we’ll

have conformable displays," says Julie Brown, UDC’s 41-year old

chief technical officer, who oversees the 25-member technical team.

Imagine a display running around your coffee mug or across the back

of your car headrest. And in-flex use displays could come in many

other forms besides pens. "The one I like best would let me wrap

my cell phone around my wrist," Brown says. "Once we have

the multiple-flex display technology, the applications are probably


The Universal Communication Device is just one of several ongoing

programs UDC has with the military. This year the Army extended its

commitment to help develop plastic displays that can be mounted on

military helmets, integrating a miniature, high-resolution display

into — or laminating it onto — the helmet face shield, to

give soldiers direct visual access to critical information.

The Army has also given UDC a grant to work on building OLED displays

on metal foil. "Plastic is a wonderful substrate to build displays

on, but it has some limitations that we’re addressing," says


The major advantage of metal foil over plastic? Its ability to


much higher temperatures during processing, when you have to build

a thin film transistor array on base material before OLEDs can be

added. "Foil may enable us to get a flexible OLED display into

the marketplace sooner."

The marvelously versatile OLED technology that UDC wants to apply

to plastic, metal, fabric, and glass sprang from a marriage of organic

chemistry and electrical engineering. The research for the technology

is being done by teams at Princeton’s Photonics and Optoelectronic

Materials (POEM) center, led by Stephen Forrest, PhD, chair of


electrical engineering department, and at the University of Southern


The "O" in OLED stands for "organic" and refers to

synthetic, non-biological, carbon-containing compounds. Those


molecules "are highly colored, visible organic dyes," says

Forrest, a 1972 graduate of the University of California who got his

PhD in physics from the University of Michigan. He worked seven years

at Bell Labs and six years at USC before coming to Princeton in 1992.

(His USC counterpart, Mark Thompson, PhD, used to be on the Princeton

chemistry department faculty.)

While the important feature of, say, clothing dyes is their ability

to be absorbed, the significant characteristic of OLED dyes is their

ability to give off light. The OLED — the actual device —

is a solid-state semiconductor with organic dyes that emit light when

stimulated by an electric current. (By contrast, liquid crystal


or LCDs — a technology that is a tough OLED competitor — only

reflects light from a back-lit source.)

Researchers have been investigating organic semiconductors for the

last 50 years, with research into the dyes’ efficient light


first being done by Kodak in the mid-1980s. "Our particular


has been to make very functional layered devices using thin-film


Forrest explains, "and to get color out of them."

Forrest’s and Thompson’s OLED research attracted the attention of

Philadelphia entrepreneur Sherwin Seligsohn, who had already made

a fortune from licensing cellular technology. He entered into his

first strategic partnership with Princeton and USC in 1994 — one

that is still going strong.

"The fact that we’re working with probably the world’s premier

OLED research and development team has been one of our greatest


stories," says Abramson, who has a B.A. in international relations

from Bucknell, an M.A. in international relations and the philosophy

of science from Ohio State, and a law degree from Temple. Working

with Seligsohn first as a patent lawyer, Abramson became UDC president

in 1996.

UDC and its two university partners started with two patents, both

granted around the beginning of 1998, that allowed for transparent

and color OLED displays. (See "An OLED Family Primer," below).

Those first two patents have very fruitfully multiplied, with

UDC now having 400 issued or pending patents worldwide.

And UDC continues to forge new OLED development. With the help of

a crucial new corporate partnership, the company intends to merge

two disparate camps of OLED research.

Half of the OLED community (including UDC) has focused

on developing technology using small molecule OLEDs that start as

crystals, Mahon explains. The other half — which includes DuPont

Display, a division of DuPont that has been doing OLED research for

about seven years — has instead used a class of polymer OLED


that start as a liquid.

Last December UDC and DuPont announced joint development and cross

licensing agreements to bring the two research branches together,

making it possible to eventually have liquid processible OLED


That means that color pixilated displays in the future could be built

using equipment comparable to ink jet printers.

The Army and DuPont are only two of UDC’s strategic partners. Samsung

wants to use UDC’s OLED technology in cell phone displays, while Sony

has even more ambitious plans for UDC’s technology: OLED television

screens and desktop monitors.

In 2000, UDC began a partnership with Germany’s Aixtron AG, licensing

intellectual property to Aixtron to build manufacturing equipment

— through a process called "organic vapor phase


— that will enable high volume flat panel display production.

In 2002 Aixtron installed the first pilot OVPD system at UDC’s plant

(designed by New Jersey architects Arcari & Iovino and built by


Sweetwater Construction). UDC will use Aixtron’s equipment to optimize

the manufacturing process.

And UDC enjoys "a fabulous partnership" with Pittsburgh’s

PPG Industries, Mahon says. PPG is now helping accelerate the


of phosphorescent organic materials UDC wants to use in its different

display applications.

"They will also produce commercial quantities of those materials

for us, to in turn provide to our manufacturing partners," says


Video wands, cell phone bracelets, plastic television screens you

can roll up and down on your wall like a window blind — while

the future is undeniably bright for OLED technology, very few OLED

products are now on the market. Back in 1999, Mahon says, Pioneer

Electronics — the Tokyo-based manufacturing giant of digital audio

and video products — introduced an OLED screen display in an


audio component as well as a Motorola cell phone.

And "there are now a handful of other companies who are just


to get displays into the pipeline," Mahon says. One of the first

examples of OLED displays to hit the market will be the peekaboo


now cropping up on the outside of clamshell-configured cell phones,

she adds. "We are now sitting on the cusp where our products are

just beginning to hit the marketplace."

One big hurdle in OLEDs’ marketability is operating lifetime —

a hurdle that, according to chief technical officer Brown is now being

cleared, thanks to the company’s university researchers and its own

technical team. Princeton’s phosphorescent OLEDs, discovered in 1999,

had an operating lifetime of 10 hours — well below the 5,000 or

10,000 hours needed for commercial applications. Several advances

now allow OLEDs to achieve operating lifetimes of more than 10,000

hours at display level brightness.

"We’ve improved the stability of the organic molecules, and we

improved the architecture of the device," says Brown, who got

a PhD in 1991 from University of Southern California. (She was one

of Forrest’s first graduate students, and came to UDC in 1998 from

a job with Hughes Laboratories in Malibu, California.) "We also,

in PPG, have a chemical company that is moving these molecules to

a commercial reality, without impurities that can lead to short


It’s partly that boost in operating lifetime — along with


more lightweight, flexible, and inexpensive displays — that will

allow OLEDs to take on competing technologies, like liquid crystal

displays (LCDs).

"We have to have better performance than incumbent technologies

today," Brown says. "OLED displays need to operate more hours

than LCDs and provide full color displays with low power." At

the same time, LCD and plasma technology for flatscreen televisions

have not stood still, continuing to raise the bar for OLED technology.

But OLED development is accelerating, with market analysts now


that OLEDs will be used in televisions as early as 2004.

That’s great news for those of us who can’t afford the current


plasma TV models: Unlike OLEDs, plasma displays need pricey high


drivers. In addition to having better brightness, Mahon says that

OLED flatscreens should be cheaper.

While UDC has been racking up press and partners, they’ve also


another crowd: competitors. Five years ago, fewer than a dozen


were doing serious work with OLEDs, says Mahon. Now "there are

probably 120 different entities worldwide participating in the OLED

food chain, from research to development to manufacturing," she


Another big change is the number of companies committing to putting

manufacturing capacity in place. "Five years ago, only Pioneer

and maybe TDK had begun to put capacity in place," says Mahon.

Now well over a dozen companies are gearing up to bring OLED


online. Many of the companies are based in Japan and Korea, while

Taiwan will also play a big role.

But "there is an accelerating movement among American companies,

such as Kodak and DuPont, to get involved in the display


says Abramson. That has been aided by the U.S. Display Consortium,

a trade group of more than 100 companies, including UDC, that are

boosting the American presence in the flat panel display industry.

Technological development has been challenged by the stalled economy,

although Abramson says the company has continued to be successful

raising money (it trades as PANL on NASDAQ) and even retired $15


in debt last year. Still, while revenues are going up, the company

is looking to the future to be profitable.

"We’re now partnering with some of the largest and best-known

companies in the world," says Abramson. "It’s a heady feeling

— but a sobering one as well. We realize how much farther we have

to go to truly be a success in the commercial world."

Universal Display Corporation Inc. (PANL), 375

Phillips Boulevard, Ewing 08618. Steven Abramson, president.


fax, 609-671-0995. Www.universaldisplay.com

Top Of Page
Other University Partnerships

The Universal Display Corporation (UDC) has gathered

an impressive group of strategic partners to take its technology to


But its relationship with its initial partner — Princeton


— is still going strong. In 1997, Princeton (along with the


of Southern California, which has another OLED research team) and

UDC signed a five-year agreement that was renewed last year. (The

university’s first agreement with UDC’s founder was in 1994.)

The 1997 agreement was the university’s first foray into taking equity

for tech transfer — although, according to Joe Montemarano,


for industrial liaison for Princeton’s Photonics and Optoelectronic

Materials (POEM) center where the OLED research is housed, it was

certainly not the last. The university is now, he says, submitting

a proposal to the National Science Foundation to establish a nano

imprint manufacturing center here in Princeton that would seek to

involve many different companies and labs.

UDC — as well as Sensors Unlimited, a company on Route One in

Princeton that was also founded with POEM research — were


examples" of start-ups that went right, Montemarano says. Both

had the distinction of not needing venture funds to be launched —

exceptions that highlight funding problems for other start-ups in

the state.

"There needs to be a more integrated and robust effort at seed

funding in New Jersey," says Montemarano. One company that


research helped launch is already leaving the state, he pointed out,

because they can’t get more seed investment.

"They have to follow the money," he says, adding that New

Jersey could learn some important lessons from other parts of the

country that have more experience with early stage funding.

The defection is "a wake-up call," spurring the university

and other technology players in the state to get information on


technologies out to venture firms. "At that point, we can expect

them to act sooner rather than later," he says. Problems finding

venture funds are also motivating Princeton to seek to collaborate

with other research entities like Rutgers.

"We had hoped the Commission on Science and Technology might be

an architect of that," Montemarano says, referring to the


proposal to stop all funds to the commission, "but at this point,

we don’t foresee that."

POEM researchers continue to be prolific, representing perhaps as

much as one half of all the intellectual property generated


But the slipping economy means that those in tech transfer better

be adaptable. "Fortunately, we’ve been able to diversify and our

pursuit of life science and biotech applications has been quite


he says. "We’re able to take telecom technologies and put them

into use for medical imaging, DNA sequencing, and a whole variety

of things."

That adaptability has given POEM research better play in what


calls "shorthaul markets." But "everyone," he adds,

"is waiting for telecom to come back."

— Phyllis Maguire

Princeton University Photonics and Optoelectronic

Materials, E-Quad, Suite J303, Princeton 08544. James C. Sturm,

director. 609-258-4454; fax, 609-258-1954.


Top Of Page
OLED Family Primer

OLEDs are organic light-emitting diodes, solid-state

semiconductor devices with dye compounds that contain carbon. The

dyes give off light when stimulated by electric current.

Research teams at Princeton University and at the University of


California have taken the basic OLED technology and created several

new generations for Ewing’s Universal Display Corporation (UDC). Those

different technology platforms include:

TOLED: Transparent OLED is UDC’s cornerstone technology.

Synthetic molecules are layered in a microscopically-thin film —

about 1/10,000 of the thickness of a human hair — with transparent

electrodes. A breakthrough transparent technology, TOLED


changed the display landscape," says Janice Mahon, UDC’s vice

president of technology commercialization. With transparent


you can turn a glass wall, a car windshield, or even the lenses of

your sunglasses into a display.

SOLED: Stacked OLED is built upon TOLED technology.


refers to the vertically stacked architecture of colored pixels for

full color OLEDs. Like TOLED, Mahon points out, SOLED is a


In conventional displays powered by the cathode ray tubes used in

televisions, for example, different colored pixels are arranged side

by side. "It’s your eye that resolves the colors from the red,

green, and blue pixels," Mahon says. "But our technology


colors on top of each other within each pixel." You get the same

amount of visual information in one-third of the area, she says —

and with three times the resolution.

FOLED: Flexible OLED technology allows OLEDs to be mounted

on flexible plastic substrates, unlike liquid crystal displays (LCDs,

the ruling technology in desktop and laptop computer screens) where

crystals flow between two pieces of glass.

With the lighter weight technology, "someday FOLEDs will be


to any surface you want," says Mahon. In a few years, she


you will be rolling up the TV screen on your wall like a blind,


your portable computer monitor to stash in a briefcase or bookbag,

and wearing T-shirts and blue jeans with FOLED logos.

PHOLED: Phosphorescent OLED technology, a focus for UDC,

is getting a lot of play. With four times the power efficiency of

other OLED platforms, PHOLED displays allow batteries in portable

devices to last much longer.

"PHOLEDs are a cornerstone for OLED development to take on


technologies like liquid crystal displays (LCDs)," says UDC’s

chief technical officer Julie Brown. That’s because phosphorescent

OLEDs last longer on the same battery as LCDs, providing full color

displays with low power.

Phosphorescent OLEDs are behind UDC’s joint development with Samsung

SUI to develop phosphorescent displays for cell phones. And the U.S.

Army has initiated several small business innovation research programs

with UDC to incorporate PHOLED technology in different military


such as helmet-mounted display systems.

P2OLED: Phosphorescent Printable OLEDs. The process —

which is being developed through a partnership between UDC and DuPont

Displays, a division of DuPont — will combine two different OLED

technologies: solid crystal OLEDs with polymer or liquid OLED


The goal is to create a process whereby OLED displays can be


(for much less money than when they’re layered in a solid state) via

an ink-jet printing technique.

AMOLED. Active matrix OLED — as opposed to passive

matrix — refers to different formats for building displays. An

active matrix display, Mahon explains, allows individual pixels to

be "turned on" or activated independently of each other to

produce much better degrees of brightness.

Active matrix formats also "provide significantly higher power

efficiency," says Mahon. "That’s why the OLED industry by

and large is evolving toward an active matrix configuration."

— Phyllis Maguire

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