Prime View snaps up electronic-ink pioneer

Taiwanese display maker Prime View International will buy E Ink, the company that developed the ‘electronic paper’ used in digital book readers from and Sony.

Prime View said on Monday it would pay about $215m for E Ink, whose flexible digital displays are used in Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader. Privately held E Ink emerged from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology laboratory about a decade ago.

The market for digital book readers is among the fastest-growing segments of the troubled consumer electronics industry. Research firm Suppli estimates the fledgling market will grow from 1.1 million units last year to 20 million in 2012.

Vice President of E Ink, Sriram Peruvemba, said the deal would provide the financing and manpower needed to fuel development of colour displays, which the company said should go into mass production at the end of 2010. Kindle and Sony Reader displays are currently available only in black and white.

E Ink and Prime View are already close business partners, with E Ink providing the front part of flexible displays to Amazon and Sony. Prime View makes the back end and assembles the displays.

E Ink had sales of $18m in the first quarter, about a third of Prime View’s revenue during the period, according to Peruvemba.

E Ink holds more than 100 patents on its electrophoretic ink technology, in which electrical charges cause tiny black and white particles to move up and down in an opaque liquid to form text and images on the top surface.

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