An investigation into possible anticompetitive behaviour in the flat-panel display market has widened with four more big vendors saying they had been contacted by investigators.
Samsung says it had been served with subpoenas by regulators in the US, South Korea and Japan, while Sharp and Taiwan's AU Optronics were contacted by the Japan Fair Trade Commission and the US Department of Justice (DOJ), they say. Taiwan's Chi Mei Optoelectronics says a subsidiary in the US was also contacted by the DOJ.
The investigation came to light when Philips LCD revealed that it had been subpoenaed by regulators in the US, South Korea and Japan.
The probe centres on 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 anticompetition 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.
In the DRAM investigation, Market leaders Samsung and Hynix Semiconductor pleaded guilty in 2005 to price-fixing and received fines of US$300 million and $185 million, respectively. Japan's Elpida Memory had to pay $84 million and Germany's Infineon Technologies paid a $160 million fine.
Among other LCD manufacturers, Sony says its joint-venture with Samsung, S-LCD had not been contacted by the investigators.
In October several manufacturers of SRAM chips said they had been subpoenaed by the US DOJ, although they did not disclose the nature of the DOJ's requests. The companies were Cypress Semiconductor and the US units of Mitsubishi Electric, Samsung Electronics, Sony and Toshiba.