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Archived updates for Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Dissatisfaction All-Around on $6M Settlement for Japanese Blue LED Inventor

You can bet that a settlement is fair when it leaves just about everyone dissatisfied in one way or another --

"I had no choice but to reach a court-arranged settlement. I am furious," said Shuji Nakamura, a professor at University of California at Santa Barbara, at a press conference on Wednesday regarding his settlement with his former employer over Japanese inventors rights to the blue light-emitting diode (LED). After the Tokyo District Court ordered his former employer, Nichia Corp., to pay him 20 billion yen as a reward for his invention, the Tokyo High Court set the settlement amount at some 608 million yen plus interest. "(Judges) proposed an ungrounded amount and told me to sign a settlement. I think that Japan's judicial system is corrupt," reportedly said Mr. Nakamure.

"The profits that Nakamura has generated for the company, I believe, are much higher (than he is set to receive). I have the impression that the court restricted the amount to avoid adversely affecting corporate activities," said Hidetoshi Masunaga, chief lawyer for the plaintiff.

University of Tokyo Professor Emeritus Hajime Nishimura said the settlement represents total defeat for Prof. Nakamura. "I estimate that Prof. Nakamura should receive 7 billion yen for the invention. If the company had agreed to pay 5 billion yen, it could be called a compromise, but the agreement represents a complete loss for the inventor," he said. "If Nakamura had shown an objective basis for calculating the amount of compensation, he would certainly have won the appeal trial. It's really regrettable."

"The reward amounting to 608.57 million yen is too high and we aren't satisfied with it. However, we chose to accept it to quickly settle the dispute with Mr. Nakamura and concentrate on our business activities," Nichia said in a statement. "Researchers interested in their work find pleasures in the fruits. I don't think many researchers gauge their inventions in financial terms."

The Japan Intellectual Property Association, of which about 1,000 companies are members, claims that the amount to be paid to Nakamura through the settlement is still too high. "It's still extraordinarily high as a reward for an invention that an individual made as part of his job working for an organization," said Hideo Doi, secretary-general of the association. "If the figure is taken for granted, it'll cause trouble in the industry."

A blue LED consists of a two-sided crystal such that the "sides" represent an n-type and a p-type semiconductor. The n-type conducts electrons, and the p-type conducts holes, which are the absence of electrons. The electrons flow along in one direction, and the holes in the other. The place in the crystal where the electrons fall into or are injected into the holes is called the junction, and that is where the photons--the particles of light--are emitted.

What Nakamura did was to figure out how to grow the crystal so that it would have the n and p semiconductor structure that would create "quantum wells" for the electrons at the junction. One key thing he did to create the wells was to add indium to the gallium nitride crystal. Without the indium, the gallium nitride crystal produces a higher frequency ultraviolet light, which is not visible. The addition of indium results in lowering the frequency of the emitted photons to visible blue, but the indium also creates the quantum well effect, so that electrons falling into the passing holes first fall into the well and therefore collect en mass before being injected into the holes. That massing in the well creates a more vigorous injection.
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