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Veeco boosts investment in wearable-device tech

Veeco mechanical engineer Mathew Levy holds a data

Veeco mechanical engineer Mathew Levy holds a data wafer at a plant in Plainview in 2012. Credit: Chris Ware

Veeco Instruments Inc. is doubling down on a Silicon Valley startup whose inkjet technology will be used to produce electronics like watches and tablets with flexible displays.

The Plainview company joined new investor Samsung and several venture capital firms in a $38 million funding round for Kateeva Inc. based in Menlo Park, California.

The investment expands Veeco's foothold in the emerging market for wearable computers and, ultimately, devices whose displays can be unfolded like a magazine pullout.

Veeco, which makes tools that electronics manufacturers use to create disk drives and light-emitting diodes for lighting and computer displays, joined the fourth round of venture capital investment in Kateeva, which has raised more than $110 million. Veeco also took part in the prior round, said Alain Harrus, chief executive of 6-year-old Kateeva.

Harrus said the company is shipping equipment to electronics makers who will roll out products in early 2015. Unlike current electronic devices, those made with Kateeva's tools will replace the top glass layer with a "thin film" that's harder than glass, yet flexible.

Initially, the devices will use thin film simply as a replacement for glass on small devices like watches, he said. "Ultimately it migrates to tablets with a folding structure" like a trifold in a magazine. "All of a sudden you have a display three times the size of the original magazine."

The much ballyhooed Apple Watch, scheduled for launch in 2015, has a curved glass face, according to the company website, but few details are known about its construction.

Shares of Veeco rose 6 cents to close at $35.43 Wednesday. They are up 7.7 percent since Jan. 2.

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