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A method for enhancing the emission properties of light-emitting diodes, by coupling to surface plasmons, is analyzed both theoretically and experimentally. The analyzed structure consists of a semiconductor emitter layer thinner than /spl lambda//2 sandwiched between two metal films. If a periodic pattern is defined in the top semitransparent metal layer by lithography, it is possible to efficiently couple out the light emitted from the semiconductor and to simultaneously enhance the spontaneous emission rate. For the analyzed designs, we theoretically estimate extraction efficiencies as high as 37% and Purcell factors of up to 4.5. We have experimentally measured photoluminescence intensities of up to 46 times higher in fabricated structures compared to unprocessed wafers. The increased light emission is due to an increase in the efficiency and an increase in the pumping intensity resulting from trapping of pump photons within the microcavity.