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Bendable Smartphone Comes 6 to 12 Months; Samsung Beating Apple in Race for Patents

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By Athena Yenko | May 16, 2014 2:35 PM EST

Through an advanced technology material, Graphene, bendable smartphones may come sooner than expected, as early as 6 to 12 months from now.

Jeanie Lau, a professor of physics at the  University of California Riverside said that the material Graphene is already being used in different technological applications.

"Since it is both transparent and electrically conductive -- two attributes rarely found in the same material in nature -- it has tremendous potential as the transparent electrode in monitors, displays, solar cells, and touch screens. Companies such as Samsung that invest heavily in this area have already secured patents, produced prototypes, and are expected to bring products to market in a few years," Ms Lau told Fortune.

Lau described Graphene as a wonderful material that conducts heat ten times better than copper and electricity 100 times than silicon.

"...is transparent like plastic, extremely lightweight, extremely strong, yet flexible and elastic. In the past decade, it has taken the scientific and technology communities by storm, and has become the most promising electronic material to supplement or replace silicon."

Michael Patterson, CEO of Graphene Frontiers reiterates Graphene's "incredible potential for electronics". He said that products which utilise Graphene in basic touch-screen  applications could be arriving in the market in the next six to twelve months.

"We will someday see an era where mobile devices will truly become flexible, easily folded and unfolded, and that's when we will need graphene," Claire Kim, a Seoul-based analyst at Daishin Securities Co. told Bloomberg.  

Tech giants are racing against each other for Graphene as the first companies to utilise the material in mobile devices will leave its competitor eating the dust.

Hong Byung Hee, professor at Seoul National University, who owns a patent for Graphene with mass-production property said that Samsung, Apple and Google had already expressed their interests.

"Global technology companies are facing innovation limits in hardware and design, and in order to step over to the next level, they need to adopt new materials like graphene. Our key graphene technology is receiving considerable interest from firms including Apple, Samsung and even Google."

However, Bloomberg noted that Samsung had the most number of patents filed for Graphene - 38 patents and at least 17 applications using the word "graphene" - according to data from US Patent and Trademark Office.

In comparison, Apple Inc had only two Graphene patent applications. Foxconn Technology Group, supplier to Apple, has also filed for Graphene patents.

According to Mr Hong, the Graphene patent that he owns can be use to create devices that could be bend about five times the length of an Apple iPad.

Curiously, Mr Hong was clear that he has no plans of selling his patents to Google or Apple - leaving out Samsung. He said that his interest is on a company that will build a manufacturing plant employed with advanced equipment to mass-produce the material for touchscreen panels.

While representatives for Apple and Google refused to give statements to Bloomberg, Samsung replied through an email to Bloomberg.

"It is more durable than steel and has high heat conductibility as well as flexibility, which makes it the perfect material for use in flexible displays, wearables and other next generation electronic devices," Samsung wrote.

Samsung implied that Graphene can be use to three product categories where Samsung had the largest market share worldwide - smartphones, memory chips and television. It has to be noted that Samsung is already talking about the future of its wearable devices, unfortunately for the iWatch.

Interestingly, Whang Dong Mok, a professor at the School of Advanced Materials Science & Engineering at Sungkyunkwan University in Suwon, South Korea said that bendable wearable devices could arrive in the market within the next five years.

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