Boston University patent suit over Apple's iPhone 5 could net $75M

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Apple's iPhone is at the center of another patent dispute, as the Trustees of Boston University have filed suit against the Cupertino company, alleging that not only the iPhone 5 but also the iPad and MacBook Air infringe on a BU professor's patent.

738


At issue in the suit is U.S. Patent No. 5,686,738, covering a method of "highly insulating monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films." Theodor D. Moustakas, Ph.D., a BU professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is listed as the inventor of the '738 patent, and the University as the assignee owns the right, title, and interest to the patent.

The process in the patent is related to the production of semiconductor devices using silicon, sapphire, gallium aresenide, magnesium oxide, zinc oxide, and silicon carbide. Gallium nitride thin films, a product of the process, are desirable in electronics due to their being a source of inexpensive and compact solid-state blue lasers.

The plaintiffs claim that Apple's iPhone 5, iPad, and MacBook Air "include a gallium nitride thin film semiconductor device" of the type described in the '738 patent. The suit alleges that Apple "has infringed, and continues to infringe, one or more claims of the '738 patent."

BU's case would seem to be bolstered by the fact that at least one other company pays a licensing fee to use the component in question, the Boston Herald reported on Wednesday. The University will likely raise that issue in court.

Boston University has also filed identical claims against eight other smaller manufacturers, as well as claims against both Samsung and Amazon in the past year. Observers note that the payout from the Apple suit could top out around $75 million if the University can demonstrate that Moustakas intended to make a business out of his invention.

The University's suit calls for Apple to detail all "gains, profits, and advantages" stemming from its use of the '738 patent, as well as awarded damages to compensate for the infringement. The suit also calls for the court to permanently enjoin Apple from making and selling any of the infringing products.

In its filing, Boston University asks the court for a trial by jury on all matters suitable for trial by jury. The case, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-11575, was filed on July 2 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. F. Dennis Saylor is the presiding judge.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 53
    wisdomseedwisdomseed Posts: 141member
    damn I am sick of patent suits.
  • Reply 2 of 53
    bradprobradpro Posts: 7member
    If they aren't using the patent personally, then the patent should be public domain.
  • Reply 3 of 53
    rot'napplerot'napple Posts: 1,839member
    Is this the same type of professors that were listed to courses I took, but never showed up because they were too busy writing patents, working on projects, writing books, or whatever and the good money I paid for was for a course delivered by some professor's teachers aide?!
  • Reply 4 of 53
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 18,463member
    This one seems serious. An institution like BU -- and its Board of Trustees -- would not remotely take something like this on as a trolling exercise. If patents have been infringed, Apple should pay, and move on. $75M is chump change (for Apple).
  • Reply 5 of 53
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 18,463member
    rot'napple wrote: »
    Is this the same type of professors that were listed to courses I took, but never showed up because they were too busy writing patents, working on projects, writing books, or whatever and the good money I paid for was for a course delivered by some professor's teachers aide?!

    This would not happen in any of the universities with which I have been associated. Where did you go to school?
  • Reply 6 of 53
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Maybe Apple's sofa cushions will get put back crooked. But maybe not. It's too soon to panic.
  • Reply 7 of 53
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,155member
    Does Apple manufacture the component in question or just buy it to use. Seems like whoever makes it should be the target.
  • Reply 8 of 53
    chandra69chandra69 Posts: 638member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by BradPro View Post



    If they aren't using the patent personally, then the patent should be public domain.


    You mean... should the professor fabricate chips for himself using that technology?

  • Reply 9 of 53
    charlitunacharlituna Posts: 7,163member
    In the end it could turn out that Apple is at zero fault because

    1. BU is mistaken over the issue of what method is being used to produce for Apple products and it is not THEIR method

    2. BU is mistaken that they weren't paid for their patent as it was done under a patent exhaustion deal with a third party supplier who then sold to Apple. Since Apple rarely talks about exactly who does what for their stuff this wouldn't be a shocking mistake
  • Reply 10 of 53
    charlitunacharlituna Posts: 7,163member
    Does Apple manufacture the component in question or just buy it to use. Seems like whoever makes it should be the target.

    Buyers are legally required to insure that all legal license for use of the item is covered and if not to set up appropriate deals
  • Reply 11 of 53
    solomansoloman Posts: 228member
    bradpro wrote: »
    If they aren't using the patent personally, then the patent should be public domain.

    Take a look at the guy that invented intermittent windshield wipers. Should that guy have started a car company in order for his patent to be valid?
  • Reply 12 of 53
    malaxmalax Posts: 1,598member


    If the method described in this patent doesn't meet the definition of "obvious" I don't know what would.  How else would you make a solid state blue laser?  /s


     


    I wouldn't want to be on a jury for this case.

  • Reply 13 of 53
    solomansoloman Posts: 228member
    Does Apple manufacture the component in question or just buy it to use. Seems like whoever makes it should be the target.

    Why? They took orders from Apple to build it. The due diligence is on Apple not them.
  • Reply 14 of 53
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by BradPro View Post



    If they aren't using the patent personally, then the patent should be public domain.


    There are some companies that they only hold and license patents and that's their business.  The problem I see is that if a company wants to develop a product, they have to perform a very exhaustive patent search before they can do anything, which may impede new product development.


     


    I think what happens is that if Apple knows about an existing patent, they either try to work around the patent, try to license it, or in some cases use it anyway and deal with it later.


     


    But a lot of times they may not even know an existing patent exists because they don't have enough attorneys performing patent searches, unless Apple wants to submit their own patent.


     


    I wonder where this one ends up as.


     


    1.  Apple didn't know about the patent.


    2.  Apple knew but designed around it.


    3.  Tried to license it, but the patent owner didn't want to license it, or they wanted way too much.


    4.  Apple knew about the patent, ignored it and used it anyway.


     


    or some other scenario that I'm not aware of.

  • Reply 15 of 53
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,843member


    From the patent, it appears this patent would be used in the production of a semiconductor chip, maybe a light emitting diode. I couldn't find any web articles mentioning how this technology would even be used. If it is indeed a single component on an iPhone, iPad or MacBook Air, someone would have had to take these apart and checked every single component. I don't believe BU manufactures anything using this technology so I wonder how they figured out someone else did. I also wonder whether this is a new component being used by Apple since they don't talk about previous iPhone versions. One has to wonder if common resistors and transistors have been patented and whether the original "inventor" will start suing about these.

  • Reply 16 of 53
    anonymouseanonymouse Posts: 6,558member


    I have a problem with this case that has nothing to do with patent trolling (they're real) or whether it's valid, or whether it's being infringed.


     


    My problem is that academic patents like this were almost certainly developed using grant money from the federal government, or based directly on research that was funded by the government -- i.e., with public funds. I don't think that patents should be allowed if the patent is closely based on work funded by public money.

  • Reply 17 of 53

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by BradPro View Post



    If they aren't using the patent personally, then the patent should be public domain.




    Since when?

  • Reply 18 of 53

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by WisdomSeed View Post



    damn I am sick of patent suits.




    Which ones? Apple or everyone else

  • Reply 19 of 53

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by malax View Post


    If the method described in this patent doesn't meet the definition of "obvious" I don't know what would.  How else would you make a solid state blue laser?  /s


     


    I wouldn't want to be on a jury for this case.





    And what you wold say to the patent for a "rectangular shape with rounded corners"?. I bet that the next patent will be for the circle, right?

  • Reply 20 of 53
    lilgto64lilgto64 Posts: 1,147member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by charlituna View Post





    Buyers are legally required to insure that all legal license for use of the item is covered and if not to set up appropriate deals


     


    Right, and do you check to verify that all the components both hardware and software in the products you bought have been properly licensed and make arrangements to pay otherwise? Or is this only limited to those who make products that are directly sold to consumers? or is the supplier of the chips not a seller and Apple a buyer? what about the suppliers Apple's suppliers? have you checked that the gallium arsenide is mined from duly licensed mining operations in countries that have a positive human rights record, etc, etc, etc.


     


    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Soloman View Post





    Why? They took orders from Apple to build it. The due diligence is on Apple not them.


     


    Why would it be on Apple? Perhaps if the company suppling to Apple is only doing so under a strict license to use a process and materials explicitly detailed by and provide through Apple sources then why would it not be on the plant actually producing the chips using equipment and or procedures covered by patents to ensure that the have paid for whatever license or right to use there may be?


     


     


    It sounds to me like someone may have decided that their patent is being used by an awful lot of low level suppliers and the profit margins are very thin - when those components end up in very high profit margin end user products and they want to see a percentage of the retail price of the finished product rather than a percentage of the wholesale price of a component of that product, but I could be wrong. 

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