Regulatory probe of LCD market widens

An investigation into possible anti-competitive behaviour in the flat-panel display market has widened.

An investigation into possible anti-competitive behaviour in the flat-panel display market has widened, with four more big vendors saying they have been contacted by investigators.

Samsung Electronics said it had been served with subpoenas by regulators in the U.S., South Korea and Japan, while Sharp and Taiwan's AU Optronics were contacted by the Japan Fair Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), they said. Taiwan's Chi Mei Optoelectronics said a subsidiary in the U.S. was also contacted by the DOJ.

The investigation came to light Monday when LG.Philips LCD revealed that it had been subpoenaed by regulators in the U.S., South Korea and Japan.

The probe centres on TFT (thin-film transistor) LCDs, according to Samsung. They are used in a wide range of electronics products including flat-panel televisions and computer monitors, laptop computers, cell phones and digital music players. The three companies being investigated are among the largest manufacturers of such displays.

The investigation comes on the heels of anti-competition probes in the DRAM (dynamic RAM) and SRAM (static RAM) markets. The DRAM investigation focussed on price-fixing, which is when vendors cooperate to set prices artificially.

Sharp Spokeswoman Miyuki Nakayama said the company was surprised to have received the summons. Sharp has a policy of "fair and ethical management," she said. Cho Sung In, a spokeswoman for Samsung in Seoul, said: "Samsung Electronics is strongly committed to fair competition and ethical practices and forbids anti-competitive behaviour."

Among other LCD manufacturers, Sony said its joint-venture with Samsung, S-LCD, had not been contacted by the investigators.

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Martyn Williams

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