Toshiba Conspired With Competitors on LCD Prices, Jury Rules

Toshiba Conspired With Competitors on LCD Prices, Jury Rules
Signage for Toshiba Corp. is displayed atop the company's headquarters in Tokyo. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Toshiba Corp. conspired with competitors to fix the price of display screens and is liable for $87 million in damages, a U.S. jury ruled.

The 10-member jury, after deliberating in federal court in San Francisco for less than two days, found the company liable to manufacturers that used the displays for $17 million in damages and liable to consumers, who purchased finished products, for $70 million. Under antitrust law, defendants can be assessed damages of three times the overcharge, or $261 million in the jury’s decision today.

Toshiba, based in Tokyo, was accused of meeting with competitors in hotel rooms to set prices for thin-film-transistor liquid crystal displays, or LCD panels, from 1999 to 2006. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of U.S. makers of digital signs, home-theater equipment, laptop computers and office networks that bought the panels.

“We’re very happy” with the verdict, said Bruce Simon, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Toshiba said it will appeal the verdict.

“Toshiba plans to pursue all available legal avenues to correct that finding,” spokesman Julius Christensen said in an e-mail statement.

The company has “consistently maintained that there was no illegal activity on its part in the LCD business in the United States,” Christensen said.

Tobisha doesn’t plan to “revise projections for fiscal 2012 business performance due to this matter,” he said.

‘Gray Area’

Jury forewoman Sara Alarcon said after the verdict that jurors never considered an amount for liability as high as what the plaintiffs sought. Overcharges linked to price fixing may total $867 million, lawyers for the plaintiffs said in court filings.

“We were not presented with a smoking gun,” Alarcon said. “There was a lot of gray area.”

Toshiba, builder of nuclear power plants and notebook computers, was the lone defendant on trial after at least seven Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean panel makers settled buyers’ civil claims. Sharp Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. were among those who agreed to pay $927 million in settlements reached in December.

AU Optronics Corp., Taiwan’s second-largest LCD maker, reached a settlement, lawyers said in April. LG Display Co. on May 1 resolved claims by consumers in eight U.S. states. Amounts weren’t disclosed.

Hotel Meetings

A U.S. Justice Department criminal investigation of LCD price fixing led to guilty pleas by LG Display, Chunghwa Picture Tubes and Sharp. The companies agreed in 2008 and 2009 to pay $585 million in criminal fines. Toshiba wasn’t indicted in the criminal probe.

Toshiba had denied participating in a conspiracy or fixing prices. Company lawyers argued the executives met with competitors occasionally for legitimate reasons. Toshiba also said it wasn’t making the type of products that were the subject of the meetings at the hotel, which were known as the crystal meetings.

AU Optronics made similar arguments unsuccessfully in a criminal trial. The company, its vice chairman and a senior vice president were convicted in March of colluding with rivals to fix LCD prices. AU Optronics faces a fine of as much as $1 billion, according to the Justice Department.

The case is In re TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litigation, 07-1827, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE