Shuji Nakamura, the renowned developer of blue LEDs and violet lasers, has filed suit against his former employer, Nichia Corp., claiming that he holds rights to much of his patented work conducted there, and requesting about $17 million for that work. The suit, filed in Tokyo district court, has stimulated argument about whether patents belong to an innovator or the innovator's employer. Nakamura said he wants rights to the patents in order to make them available for wider use. Researchers at Japanese companies usually sign a contract that gives all rights to innovations to their employers, and Nakamura said he signed such a contract when he joined Nichia.
Nichia essentially holds a monopoly on patents of blue LEDs developed by Nakamura, and the company does not license those patents to other manufacturers. Nichia has parlayed this monopoly into a successful market position. "If Nichia had not monopolized the patents, the blue LED market would have grown 10 times larger [than it is today," Nakamura said. "LEDs are an energy- and resource-saving device, but Nichia checks its healthy growth."
Nakamura said he applied for patents covering his research while we worked at Nichia. Nakamura said he had to persuade the company to apply for those patents because the company wanted to keep all the technology inside Nichia. The petition against Nichia states that Nakamura holds 80 percent of the rights to key patents for blue LED production, while Nichia holds 20 percent. "If I win the suit, I would license the technology to other manufacturers," Nakamura said.