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Last updated: November 29, 2004 8:36 pm

Seoul bans Matsushita plasma panels

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Seoul's Korean Trade Commission on Monday imposed a temporary import ban on plasma display panels made by Japan's Matsushita, escalating the spat between consumer electronics producers in the two countries over intellectual property rights.

The ban means Matsushita, owner of the Panasonic brand, will be banned from importing new panels used in flat-screen TVs and computer monitors into South Korea and will not be able to sell those it has in stock until a formal ruling is made.

The dispute erupted at the beginning of this month when the Japanese consumer electronics group filed an injunction against South Korean rival LG Electronics to stop it selling PDPs in Japan. Matsushita claimed that LG's panels infringed its patents concerning heat radiation technology.

LG launched a counter-suit the following day, alleging that Panasonic Korea, Matsushita's Korean subsidiary, had violated two patents ?concerning electrodes division and panel operating technologies?. It also asked South Korea for an overall ban on imports of PDP televisions made by Matsushita.

The dispute follows moves by Japanese electronics groups to take an increasingly strong stance against their Asian competitors over intellectual property rights.

Japanese manufacturers have been alarmed about technology leaks to Asian rivals and alleged patent infringements which they claim are undermining their competitiveness in an industry where digital technology has lowered the entry barrier to many product sectors.

Sharp, the largest maker of liquid crystal display TVs, sued the Taiwanese company Teco in June, claiming it was infringing its LCD technology. Fujitsu also sued Samsung SDI, alleging it had infringed 10 patents on plasma panel technology. Fujitsu and Samsung settled in June.

Meanwhile, NEC has been locked in a dispute with Harris, a US telecoms equipment maker. But most of the defendants in this case have been the company's Asian competitors, such as Samsung, Hynix and Teco.

The Korean Trade Commission said it had decided LG's claims were valid, and so agreed to a temporary ban. Plasma display panel products already in distribution would be excluded from the ban but the government watchdog said it would ask the Korea Customs Service to help impose the import restrictions.

Matsushita declined to comment on the dispute.

Matsushita and LG Electronics were the world's number one and two PDP TV makers last year, with market shares of 15 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively, research firm iSuppli said.

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