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The backstory: Samsung Display, which is a part of Samsung Electronics, has been a big player in the organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display market. It’s one of the major suppliers for these displays, which you can find in Apple devices, like the latest iPhone 14. OLED displays offer high-resolution and slim designs compared to other traditional ones.
But Beijing Oriental Electronics (BOE), a Chinese manufacturer, has been gaining ground, overtaking LG Display last year to become the second-biggest player in the OLED market, according to market researcher Omdia. In fact, BOE supplied 10% of all OLED displays for iPhones in 2021, according to Chinese market intelligence firm Runto Technology.
More recently: Last December, Samsung Display filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission (ITC). The company said that many US shops were selling “non-original” OLED screens as replacements for mobile devices. The thing is, replacing mobile screens can be pretty expensive, so there’s a big market in the US for third-party repair shops, which often source inexpensive materials from China. So, Samsung was looking to restrict imports of these products into the US on the basis that they infringed on its patents.
Then, the ITC launched an investigation into BOE in April, although Samsung didn't specifically name BOE in its complaint. So in May, BOE hit back at Samsung with a bunch of its own lawsuits. BOE filed six lawsuits against Samsung and its five Chinese entities at a court in southwestern China, and it also went after Chongqing Jingdong Jiapin Trading, a subsidiary of the e-commerce giant JD.com, with two more. The details aren’t super clear, but company records say the lawsuits involve “disputes over infringement of patent rights of inventions.”
The development: Samsung Display is now taking direct legal action against BOE for allegedly violating five of its mobile display patents, especially for those used in Apple’s iPhone 12. On Wednesday, the South Korean company filed a suit seeking damages and also an injunction to stop the import and sale of these displays.
"Samsung Display has suffered, and will continue to suffer, irreparable harm as a result of Defendants' infringement of the '599 Patent' for which there is no adequate remedy at law, unless Defendants' infringement is enjoined by this Court," said the lawsuit.
BOE has said to shareholders in November that it’s a leader "in innovation and actively protects its own intellectual property rights, while respecting the intellectual property rights of others."
"Geopolitical issues have become the biggest risk for companies to manage as of late. Companies alone cannot resolve this problem – it is one that the nation should tackle by strengthening cooperation with and closely communicating with like-minded countries like the United States," said South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in June.
"It's a grave crime that could deal a heavy blow to our economic security by shaking the foundation of the domestic chip industry at a time of intensifying competition in chip manufacturing," said prosecutors, referring to an ex-executive at Samsung who was indicted on suspicion of stealing company technology.