Sony (SNE) has agreed to cooperate with Idemitsu, a major material maker, to develop new kinds of luminous material for next-generation diplay panels, both companies said Tuesday, a move that underlines Sony's drive to play catch-up in the display business.

The preliminary agreement reached Monday between the two Japanese companies is for Organic Light-Emitting Diode, or OLED, luminous materials — a relatively novel technology compared to liquid crystal display and plasma display panels. Such panels are needed for flat-panel TVs, which are growing in global demand.

Under a contract, expected to be signed in January 2006, Sony and Idemitsu Kosan Co. Ltd. will work together to develop new OLED materials and share each other's OLED patents, the companies said.

Sony Corp. has been focusing on developing new technologies for mid-size and large-size OLED panels, which Sony sees as an important technology that may give it an edge over rivals that have already beaten Sony in LCD and plasma TVs.

OLED displays can lead to very thin displays because it emits light by running an electric current through organic luminous materials. Unlike LCDs, it requires no backlight.

"Sony is positioning OLED as the most important technology for the next-generation flat display," Sony President Ryoji Chubachi said in a statement. "We are very pleased to work on this joint development with Idemitsu, which has leading edge technology in many areas."

Idemitsu, a Tokyo-based materials manufacturer and gas-station chain, has top-level technology in OLED materials and developed the world's brightest blue-light organic luminous material in 1997, said company spokesman Tadashi Nagasaki.

"The complementary strengths of Sony's display technologies and Idemitsu's material technologies will positively drive OLED development," said Akihiko Tenbo, Idemitsu president.