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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Inventor sues employer for patent
Flashing lights
Nichia Corp. is a world leader in LED technology, thanks to the professor's discovery

By BBC World Business Report's Wendy Pascoe

A Japanese scientist who invented blue light emitting diodes (LEDs) has filed a lawsuit in California against his former employer.

The technology he invented is used in everything from giant TV sets - such as the display in New York Times Square for the Nasdaq Stock market - to traffic lights, and Digital Video Disks.

It is rare - if not unique - for a Japanese scientist to claim intellectual property rights over an employer.

Professor Shuji Nakamura says celebrity in the scientific world is not enough reward - he is believed to want a settlement of 2bn yen or $20m

Modest salary

Professor Nakamura, who left his employers, Nichia Corp, last year - claims that under Japanese Patent Law, individuals can claim the right for their discoveries.

He also says that despite making Nichia a fortune with his invention, he was only paid about $100,000 (70,000) a year in salary.

He says that to this day, Nichia has maintained a monopoly grip on the supply of blue LEDs - a market now worth close to a $1bn a year.

For its part, Nichia is not disputing the immense significance of Professor Nakamura's invention.

Professor Nakamura's case will be strengthened by the fact that he was discouraged from spending time on his LED studies by his employers.

Mad scientist

In interviews, he has claimed that he even built the equipment needed himself.

His boss, he says, told him he was crazy.

But after spending 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for ten months of the year - he cracked a problem which had defeated teams of researchers at much bigger companies.

Professor Nakamura, who is still only in his 40, left Japan last October to take up the post of professor of engineering at the University of California.

BBC's Wendy Pascoe
"It is rare for a Japanese scientist claim intellectual property rights over an employer"
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