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Antitrust Suit Launched Over LCD Display Price Fixing

The New York State Attorney General announced that it has filed an antitrust action against several major technology companies for allegedly illegally fixing prices for Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screens used in computers, televisions and cell phones.

According to the statement, the lawsuit seeks to recover damages suffered from 1996 to 2006 by New York State and other public purchasers (local governments, schools, hospitals, and colleges, among others) that purchased computers and other goods containing the price-fixed screens. The suit seeks damages, restitution and civil penalties.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in New York County, alleges that companies in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, and their U.S. counterparts, engineered a cartel that dominated the $70 billion market for LCD screens for approximately a decade. The cartel ensured that LCD prices were set not by competition, but by detailed and explicit secret agreements among the competitors. New York State purchasers paid artificially higher prices for products containing LCD panels as a result of the illegal conspiracy.

“Our investigation shows that an illegal cartel eliminated competition in the marketplace for LCD screens, made its own secret decisions to boost prices, and then took steps to make those high prices stick,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “As a result, hard-pressed New York cities, towns, schools, and hospitals spent hundreds of millions of dollars on LCD screens affected by the illegal conspiracy. My office is bringing this case to get those illegal overcharges back.”

Specifically, the lawsuit cites evidence that:

* Top-level executives, including CEOs, attended secret meetings on a regular monthly or quarterly basis to agree on minimum prices, price targets and increases, and prices to be charged to specific computer manufacturers

* Companies exchanged production information and agreed to certain output levels

* In order to cover up the conspiracy, companies coordinated their messages to their customers and manipulated media announcements in order to give the false impression that their agreed upon price hikes were due to supply and demand conditions

* Because of the cartel, conspirators were able to avoid competition and keep LCD prices artificially high to the detriment of computer manufacturers and consumers.

The defendants named in the action are:

* AU Optronics Corporation
* AU Optronics Corporation America, Inc.
* Chi Mei Corporation
* Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corporation
* Chi Mei Optoelectronics USA, Inc.
* CMO Japan Co., Ltd.
* Hitachi Displays, Ltd.
* Hitachi, Ltd.
* Hitachi Electronic Devices (USA), Inc.
* LG Display Co., Ltd.
* LG Display America, Inc.
* Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
* Samsung Electronics America, Inc.
* Samsung Semiconductor, Inc.
* Sharp Corporation
* Sharp Electronics Corporation
* Toshiba Corporation
* Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology Co., Ltd.
* Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc.
* Toshiba America Electronic Components, Inc.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General John Ioannou and Geralyn J. Trujillo and Acting Chief of the Antitrust Bureau Richard L. Schwartz, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Michael Berlin and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice Maria Vullo.’

A copy of the complaint is available for download.

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