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12 July 2013

Boston University sues Apple over GaN thin-film patent infringement

Boston University (BU) is suing consumer electronics firm Apple Inc of Cupertino, CA, USA for alleged infringement of its US patent number 5,686,738, which covers the manufacture of “highly insulating monocrystalline gallium nitride films in a molecular beam epitaxial (MBE) growth chamber”, as developed (and patented in 1997) by inventor Theodore D. Moustakas, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university.

The trustees of Boston University – one of the largest private universities in the USA – registered its lawsuit at the US District Court for Massachusetts at the beginning of July. BU claims that “the defendant [Apple] regularly and deliberately engaged in and continues to engage in activities that result in using, selling, offering for sale, and importing infringing products in Massachusetts.”

The claim further states, “These activities violate Boston University’s United States patent rights under the ’738 patent.” Electronic devices based on gallium nitride thin-film semiconductor technology covered by BU’s ’738 patent are said to be incorporated by Apple into the globally, widely sold products such as the iPhone 5, iPad and MacBook Air laptops.

Apple is reported to have sold its 100 millionth iPad during 2012, and 55 million iPhone 5 units alone were reportedly sold as of May 2013. The University contests that it owns the entire right, title, and interest relating to the ‘738 patent, including the sole right to sue for past and present patent infringements.

BU asserts that the Boston court has jurisdiction over Apple’s local activities because, among other things, Apple conducts business in Massachusetts. The university trustees are seeking damages, and demanding a trial by jury. The named presiding judge for the case is Dennis Saylor.

Boston University has previously filed patent infringement cases based on the same ‘738 patent, and another patent, against LED maker Bridgelux, in which BU was a co-plaintiff (with Cree). BU has also previously sued Nichia and AXT over the same patent.

The Boston Herald reported that, “if the university can show its professor intended to make a business out of his invention, BU may have a case. Local tech analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates said he wouldn’t be surprised if a successful verdict or settlement netted BU in the realm of $75m.”

Boston University is one of the largest employers in Boston, with more than 10,000 faculty and staff and over 33,000 students. It conducts a diverse range of interdisciplinary, collaborative and innovative research projects across a broad spectrum of academic departments, programs, centers and institutes, including research in the field of electrical and computer engineering. Faculty members have won five Nobel Prizes.

See related items:

Bridgelux and Cree settle patent infringement litigation

Veeco/NAMBE 2010 MBE Innovator Award goes to Boston University's Theodore Moustakas

Tags: Boston University MBE GaN


By Matthew Peach, Contributing Editor

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