An ultra-strong glass that has been looking for a purpose since its invention in 1962 is poised to become a multibillion-dollar bonanza for Corning Inc. The 159-year-old glass pioneer is ramping up production of what it calls Gorilla glass, expecting it to be the hot new face of touch-screen tablets and high-end TVs.

Gorilla showed early promise in the '60s, but failed to find a commercial use, so it's been biding its time in a hilltop research lab for almost a half-century. It picked up its first customer in 2008 and has quickly become a $ 170 million a year business as a protective layer over the screens of 40 million-plus cell phones and other mobile devices.

Now, the latest trend in TVs could catapult it to a billion-dollar business: Frameless flat-screens that could be mistaken for chic glass artwork on a living-room wall. Because Gorilla is very hard to break, dent or scratch, Corning is betting it will be the glass of choice as TV-set manufacturers dispense with protective rims or bezels for their sets, in search of an elegant look.

Gorilla is two to three times stronger than chemically strengthened versions of ordinary soda-lime glass, even when just half as thick, company scientists say. Its strength also means Gorilla can be thinner than a dime, saving on weight and shipping costs.

Corning is in talks with Asian manufacturers to bring Gorilla to the TV market in early 2011 and expects to land its first deal this fall. With production going full-tilt in Harrodsburg, Ky., it is converting part of a second factory in Shizuoka, Japan, to fill a potential burst of orders by year-end.

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