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Apple, Amazon, Microsoft & More Settle Lawsuits With Boston University 129

Posted by samzenpus
from the stop-using-my-stuff dept.
curtwoodward writes "Boston University hadn't been very aggressive with intellectual property lawsuits in the past. But that changed in 2012, when the school began suing the biggest names in consumer tech, alleging infringement of a patent on blue LEDs — a patent that, no coincidence, is set to expire at the end of 2014. As of today, about 25 big tech names have now settled the lawsuits, using 'defensive' patent firm RPX. A dozen or so more defendants are probably headed that way. And BU is no longer a quiet patent holder."
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Apple, Amazon, Microsoft & More Settle Lawsuits With Boston University

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  • by bunratty (545641) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @10:10PM (#45972123)
    The patent isn't on the mere idea of blue LEDs, but on how precisely to make a particlar blue LED, which was not obvious. Mere ideas cannot be patented, contrary to what many Slashdot posters would like you to believe.
  • by Yi Ding (635572) <yi@@@studentindebt...com> on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @10:16PM (#45972147)

    More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode#The_blue_and_white_LED [wikipedia.org]

    The guy who made the first blue LED won a 1.3 million dollar prize. I'm assuming the reason BU is able to collect royalties is that their method is the one that's being used commercially. Look at the description in wikipedia: Does p-doping Indium Galium Nitride seem like a trivial process?

  • by Adriax (746043) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @10:20PM (#45972167)

    Oh I know, crazy huh? How could they let this patent get by with the clearly obvious prior art of all those blue LEDs that helped light up gadgets in the 80s.

    Not like every consumer product featuring LEDs prior to 1994 or so was using red, green, yellow, and amber because depositing the gallium mix required for the blue spectrum bandgap could only be done on a ruby substrate at the time due to the normal process destroying a silicon substrate, thereby making blue LEDs insanely expensive.

  • by GumphMaster (772693) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @12:02AM (#45972787)

    In the United States you do not have to be the manufacturer to be sued for patent violation. Users are also at risk, especially if they have deeper pockets. Daft, but true.

    35 U.S.C. 271 Infringement of patent. (a) Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States, or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

    (Emphasis mine) I am sure there will be a long discussion about whether someone using a device made with the patented process is themselves "using" the patented process.

  • Bullsh*t (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:03AM (#45973389)

    1. I have a PhD in GaN LEDs, and work at an LED company
    2. I've worked with "the guy" who won that $1.3M prize for inventing the GaN LED
    3. I've worked on large, multi institutions government funded GaN-based projects that Moustakas was also involved on, I am very framiliar with the last 2.5 decades of his research in particular
    4. I am very familiar with both the devices and the IP of the field in genearl since I have a few of these kinds of patents

    This lawsuit makes no sense. First of all many if not most of the companies don't manufacture any GaN based LEDs. Second of all, that patent covers a technique that no one uses in commercial GaN LEDs. Literally no one. That patent very specifically covers GaN crystal growth by MBE (molecular beam epitaxy). Every single GaN LED company (Nichia, Cree, Soraa, etc.) uses MOCVD (Metal organic chemical vapor deposition) techniques. The claims are of course quite cryptic and difficult to determine their entire implication, but from what I can one of the mains things he is claiming to patent is any GaN structure grown on a foreign substrate with a low temperature poly-crystalline layer. Nearly all commercial LEDs are grown on sapphire of SiC with the use of some kind of low temperature poly-crystalline buffer layer. However there is lots of prior art on this (notice the dates!)

    http://jjap.jsap.jp/link?JJAP/30/L1705/

    http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/apl/48/5/10.1063/1.96549

    He also tries to discuss the potential dopant atoms, none of the ones that are mentioned are currently used. Of course I'm not sure exactly which claim their lawsuits are hinging on, but all of the meaningful claims in there are covered by prior art (journal publications) and/or better, old, stronger patents.

    tl;dr this patent is bullshit, it covers things that have prior art, or aren't useful

  • by ChrisMaple (607946) on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:03AM (#45973393)

    The guy who made the first blue LED won a 1.3 million dollar prize.

    Long before modern efficient blue LEDs were invented there were blue LEDs made by various firms, including silicon carbide LEDs commercialized by Cree in 1989 and tinkered with by others, and even a silicon-based blue LED from Sony. They were inefficient and many of them were expensive, so they weren't popular. The first observation of blue LED action was made in 1923, before anyone understood what was happening. In the late 1960s some blue silicon carbide LEDs were deliberately developed. In the early 1970s, RCA made (but never commercialized) blue and violet GaN LEDs. http://www.sslighting.net/news/features/maruska_blue_led_history.pdf [sslighting.net]

  • Re:more is coming (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 16, 2014 @02:51AM (#45973597)

    Well lets track it back to who funded the research shall we?

    Yes, let's do that indeed.

    Its not like universities wake up one day and say, oh, lets spend a few years and several hundred million and fart around with some of these cute LEDs.

    That's actually pretty much exactly what happens. That's why university research is so valuable, because it doesn't have to prove itself successful before it's even done.

    I bet you there's not only state money in it, and federal money in it, but also maybe some big-corp bucks too. But I'm betting 95% public funds of one sort or another.

    Then you should pay up, because you lost that bet. There's no outstanding federal interest in this invention, and your WAG of 95% is way off. Private schools like BU aren't required to disclose their funding in great detail, but university research is typically around 80/20 sponsored/general. In 2009 they claimed to have a $356 million sponsored research program, and the federal expenditure report indicates they received $255M in federal funding. Federal funding was 71% of their sponsored research, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-55% of their total research program. Private schools don't typically get much state money.

    But if you look at a well-documented system, albeit much larger and with a more active licensing portfolio, the University of California in 2011 generated $182 million in licensing revenue. That funds quite a bit of research. But that's just 3.3% of UC's 2011 research expenditures of $5.4 billion, 61% of which was sponsored by public sources (50% federal, 11% California). 25% was industry-sponsored research, and the balance from student fees and gifts/endowments.

    So the question is, how many patentable inventions get licensed instead of freely distributed? The answer is about 1 in 5. 80% made available for free as a service to the public and the research community is a pretty good return for only ponying up 61% of the costs, so you really don't have anything to complain about.

    That 1 in 5 number is based on their report: in 2011, UC licensed around 300 patents, but filed over 1000, two-thirds of its 1500 disclosed patentable inventions. This makes it a typical year--UC's overall portfolio reported approximately 10,000 active inventions with just 2,100 under exclusive license. Further, any invention that involved any federal money has to be reviewed by the federal sponsor before it can be patented, and a patent is only filed if there is a private sector licensee willing to cover the costs of the patent application and the commercialization work. That's where most of them die, never making any money because they end up not being commercially viable anyway. Only a fraction of that 20% actually ends up being an invention of interest to society.

    If UC were to stop licensing patents altogether, it would need another $190M per year in public funding to maintain the same research program. Nationwide, university licensing has offset public budget cuts to the tune of $2 billion per year. If you're ready to write a check, I'm sure virtually every university would happily give up having to chase money through licensing, since the overhead on a patent filing and license is a lot higher than federal research funding and the amount of money coming in wouldn't depend on successful commercialization.

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