updated 12:46 pm EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
Major obstacle is still cost of production
Apple, Samsung and Google are among the companies in a race to secure patents on graphene, according to Bloomberg. Graphene is based on a relatively common material -- graphite -- but distinguished by being transparent and just one atom thick, yet tough and highly conductive. This may make it ideal not only for touchscreens but flexible electronics in general, such as wearables or foldable tablets.
Samsung is so far leading in patents, with at least 405 applications listed in a 2013 report by the UK's Intellectual Property Office. In the US it has 38 graphene-related patents; at least 17 of these have "graphene" in their summary. Apple, by contrast, is well behind, having just two or so applications in the US. Firms like IBM and Foxconn are also trying to secure patents.
The major issue with graphene is said to be mass production, a problem that still hasn't been completely solved. To that end companies are said to be courting researchers working on graphene technology, such as Hong Byung Hee, a professor at Seoul National University. Hong has a patent related to mass-producing graphene-based displays, and says that a business he owns -- Graphene Square -- is getting "considerable interest" from companies including Apple, Google, and Samsung. He says though that he is only willing to license his patents, not sell them, since he is searching for investments to set up a manufacturing plant and produce graphene films himself.