Universal Display Corporation Lights Up the Market

Sept. 26, 2014

Right: Stephen Forrest; Left: Steven AbramsonUniversal Display Corporation (UDC) has revolutionized the screens of cell phones, tablets and televisions with technology that originated in the laboratories of Princeton University.

The company’s roots go back to the early 1990s when Stephen Forrest, then a professor at Princeton and  since 2006 a professor of electrical  engineering at the University of  Michigan, began exploring how to coax  colors of light from organic molecules  sandwiched between two electrodes. With colleague Mark Thompson, then a Princeton assistant professor of chemistry now at the University of Southern California (USC), the researchers developed organic lightemitting diode (OLED) technology.

Today, OLED technologies make up a $13 billion market and are found in over 250 million smartphone and tablet screens worldwide. OLED displays are rapidly gaining on the dominant technology found in today’s screens, liquid crystal displays or LCDs, due to their power efficiency, thinness, vibrant colors and wide viewing angles. The technology is expanding into lighting and new products such as wearable displays.

The transfer of OLED technology from university to marketplace began in 1994 when technology investor Sherwin I. Seligsohn licensed the technology from Princeton University and founded UDC. Now celebrating its 20th year, the publicly traded company is a leader in the research, development and commercialization of OLED technology and energy-efficient phosphorescent-OLED materials (known as PHOLEDs).

Located in Ewing, New Jersey, about 10 miles from the Princeton campus, UDC has built a successful business based on licensing OLED technology and  selling materials to manufacturers  such as Samsung Display, which  makes OLEDs for Samsung  Electronics’ Galaxy smartphone  line, and LG Display, which makes  OLED televisions and flexible  displays. UDC’s Senior Vice President and Chief Technical Officer is Julie Brown, whose Ph.D. adviser was Forrest.

“Universal Display Corporation  and its university partners have  created a model whereby entrepreneurial companies and  universities can team up in a symbiotic fashion to further one’s  respective mission while jointly collaborating to research and  advance OLED concepts and technology,” said UDC President  and Chief Executive Officer Steven Abramson, who joined the company in 1996.

“What you see when you look at UDC and Princeton is something that is fairly close to the ideal,” said Forrest, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus. “This is a model of how university-born inventions can be connected through the technology-transfer process to knowledgeable investors who can develop the innovation to a point where it intersects with market needs and can be incorporated into new products.”

UDC continues to develop technologies based on discoveries and innovations from Princeton, the University of Michigan and from Thompson’s lab at USC. The intellectual property portfolio emerging from Michigan and USC continues to be managed by Princeton’s Office of Technology Licensing.