Flat-panel displays, already turning up by the tens of thousands in laptop computers, are high on everyone's list of key technologies for the future. Trouble is, more than 95% of them are made in Japan. But the federal government hopes to change that. On July 20, the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency agreed to provide $20 million to launch the U.S. Display Consortium. The group will consist of flat-panel startups, such as Photonics Imaging and Planar Systems, plus would-be makers such as AT&T and Xerox, as well as display customers and suppliers of equipment for making flat screens.
USDC President Peter Mills says the consortium intends to learn from the mistakes made by Sematech Inc., the pioneering industry-government collaboration aimed at chipmaking technology. For example, by not building its own research plant, as Sematech did, USDC will save big bucks and perhaps get new technology into members' factories sooner. "With a collaborative effort, I'm convinced we can put a big dent in the Japanese lead," says Mills.
More help may be coming. At the request of the White House, the Pentagon is developing a larger plan to speed the rise of a flat-panel industry in the U.S. This plan, being spearheaded by Brookings Institution senior fellow Kenneth S. Flamm, could serve as a model for the overall industrial-policy approach of the Clinton Administration.