The Innovation Behind Your Computer and Phone Screens

Some of the most important breakthrough products and processes of our time have been made possible, in large part, because of strong intellectual property and patent systems. Keep reading to learn more about the two pioneers behind the invention that you’re likely looking at right now: your computer or phone display.

Who: Ching Wan Tang and Steve Van Slyke, who were recently honored as 2018 Inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

History: Early on, computer and television displays in the 1970s were powered by the cathode ray tube (CRT). CRT monitors were groundbreaking scientific inventions at the time, but their significant size and power usage became overburdensome and inefficient. In the following decades, liquid-crystal display (LCD) technology was introduced, which brought slimmer and higher-quality displays. However, LCD displays were found to have limited power efficiency because of their reliance on a constant backlight, which was problematic as devices became portable and required greater energy efficiency.

The Invention: In the late 1980s, Ching Wan Tang and Steve Van Slyke invented the first practical Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) device, which became the technology behind most of today’s computer monitors, televisions, phone screens, smart watches, and other portable display systems.

How It Works: OLED displays consist of a layer of electroluminescent organic compounds that emit light in response to an electric current. This innovative design eliminates the need for a backlight – which reduces power usage – yet delivers greater imaging capabilities

Benefits of OLED Displays:

  • Energy Efficiency: Without a backlight, OLED displays use significantly less power, making them particularly useful for battery-powered devices such as smartphones, smartwatches, and other portable display systems.
  • Lightweight and Flexible: OLED displays can exist on thin, flexible materials, which opens the door to slimmer, curved and even roll-up screens. OLED displays are also typically shatter resistant since they often exist on plastic-based materials.
  • Better Viewing Experience: Because OLED pixels emit light directly, the displays are capable of producing sharper images with greater contrast ratios, color ranges, and viewing angles.

OLED technology has changed the way we look at our televisions, computers, phones and smart watches. But, as our devices advance, our displays will need to keep up. It’s vital to foster strong intellectual property protections that are critical to our future progress.