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Japanese Inventor Wins LED Patent Trial

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TOKYO, Feb. 4 -- The Tokyo District Court ordered Nichia Corp. to pay a former worker $189 million for his work on the blue light-emitting diode, or LED, in a landmark ruling on inventors' rights in Japan.

Shuji Nakamura -- now a professor at the College of Engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he has done pioneering work with semiconductors based on gallium nitrides -- has symbolized the struggle of the individual "salaryman" over patents in a nation where corporate devotion has been the rule for decades, The Associated Press said.

The compensation is the most awarded to an individual in a patent case in Japan, it said. The verdict was reached on Jan. 30. Nichia has filed an appeal.

The inventor, who worked for 20 years at Nichia, filed his lawsuit in 2001, saying he was not sufficiently compensated for the profits his invention brought the company. Nichia argued that the patent belonged to the company. Nakamura had sought $189 million in his lawsuit, but the court found his contribution was worth about three times that. His lawyers said they will raise the amount they are seeking but also said they face a long legal battle, most likely to the Supreme Court.

Nakamura, who is often named as a candidate for a Nobel prize, claims the company did little to support his work. Nakamura told the AP that he toiled long hours alone in his lab at Nichia, enduring ridicule and bureaucratic red tape typical at old-style Japanese companies. He quit Nichia in 1999.

In September, the district court ruled that Nichia, not Nakamura, is the rightful owner of the patent. Nakamura's lawyers have not said whether they will contest that part of the ruling.

Nakamura, who believes his legal battle is a fight for inventor and employee rights, has become a bit of a hero in Japan. He has been writing books, making the lecture circuit and even appearing in a TV clothing ad, according to the AP.

Last Thursday, the Tokyo High Court ordered Japanese electronics company Hitachi Ltd. to pay $1.5 million to a worker for a compact disc technology. Hitachi is appealing to the Supreme Court.

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Feb 2004
blue light-emitting diodegallium nitrideslight sourcesNews & FeaturesNichiasemiconductorsShuji NakamuraTokyo District CourtUniversity of California at Santa BarbaraLEDs

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