Flat-screen manufacturers plead guilty to price fixing

Three leading flat-screen producers — LG Display of South Korea, Sharp of Japan and Chunghwa Picture Tubes of Taiwan — pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a total of $585 million in criminal fines for their role in fixing the price of liquid-crystal display panels.

LG is paying the largest fine — $400 million. It’s the second-highest criminal fine ever imposed by the justice department’s antitrust division. However, the settlement, legal experts told the “New York Times,” is unlikely to be the end of the flat-panel case.

Under the settlement, the three companies have agreed to cooperate with the justice department’s continuing investigation. Thomas O. Barnett, assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s antitrust division, told a news conference last week that the investigation involved the coordinated efforts of enforcement officials in Europe, Asia and the United States.

Private class-action suits have already been filed seeking damages for companies that purchased flat-panel screens, and for consumers who bought flat-panel-equipped products. This could provide a way for consumers to benefit, though the compensation for any individual would probably be slight.

The justice department noted that the price-fixing conspiracy affected screens sold to American companies, and cited three by name: Apple, Dell and Motorola.

The LCD business is a $100-billion-a-year market and growing, but prices are continuing to fall. The price-fixing conspiracy was an effort to slow the speed of price declines.

In the last six months alone, a 32in LCD has fallen to $223 from $321, according to iSuppli, a market research firm.