Boston University Hits Apple with Patent Infringement Lawsuit

| News

Apple is facing another patent infringement lawsuit, although this time it's from Boston University instead of a company. The University is alleging that the iPhone 5, iPad, and MacBook Air use a semiconductor it received a patent for in 1997, and is asking for a ban on selling some Apple products as well as a slice of the company's profits.

Boston U says Apple chips infringe on its gallium nitride patentBoston U says Apple chips infringe on its gallium nitride patent

The patent in question was granted to Theodore D Moustakas and assigned to the Trustees of Boston University in November 1997 and describes what sounds more like something Wesley Crusher would spout than a special type of computer chip: Highly insulating monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films.

The system can be used to create "inexpensive and compact solid-state blue lasers," according to the patent filing.

The University filed its lawsuit a few days ago in Federal District Court in Massachusetts, and if the case goes to trial Apple could be forced to hand over earnings documents to help establish exactly how much money the school might score if it wins in court.

Apple isn't the first company BU has targeted with infringement lawsuits over its gallium nitride patent. Amazon and Samsung have both been hit with their own lawsuits, as have a number of smaller companies.

Apple hasn't commented on the University's lawsuit.

[Thanks to Patently Apple for the heads up]

The Mac Observer Spin The Mac Observer Spin is how we show you what our authors think about a news story at quick glance. Read More →

With so many patent infringement cases happening we can only assume Apple's legal team is using something a little more robust that the Calendar app. Oh, and Boston University, welcome to the party. You're going to be here for a while.

Popular TMO Stories



Your xenophobic writers and readers are going to have to stretch to blame Samsung for this.  Is Bryan Chaffin aware of this news?  Wow, the audacity of Boston University to dare to think it is relevant at all in the smart phone race.  Don’t they know Apple invented the smart phone from scratch??

Lee Dronick

“BU is also suing Inc., Samsung and other technology companies over the same patent issue, the Boston Globe reports.”



I’m somewhat curious why the article is considered “xenophobic”.  Is this the new method to describe customers of a competing product?  If you can’t compete and provide facts, just say the person who wrote it is xenophobic..?  I’m lost. It seems to be a challenge of business.  Based on previous success, including setting legal prescedent, Boston University is likely wrong.

I read the article and to recap, it seems an educational university, who usually has on-staff researchers, and likely uses students to perform research.  By virtue of being a university, they teach classes and have staff, and likely their courses are based on research performed at the campus.

Anyways, The fact that Boston University Regents are supporting legal action against Amazon, Samsung, and Apple, based on research which was likely funded through individual’s tuition, makes me question the value of a BU degree.  It seems to open up liabilities to business for hiring a BU Alumni, whose research and courseware disclosed in classes may have patents attached!

MIT, another esteemed university, also in the Boston area, does the opposite.  MIT has “OpenCourseware”, which is likely of higher quality, due to it’s peer-reviewed nature.  It’s available to anyone, and likely more accurate.  The different approach to disclosure of research is worth study.

Still, it’s tough to see how a patent for laser technology applies to a communications device.

Another Twitr

I read the patent.  I know about this field of GaN semiconductor, and I can tell you that this patent is junk.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Apple and their ‘thermo-nuclear’ business strategy, and Apple needs to be reminded that their inventions are the culmination of thousands of other non-Apple inventors.  But BU’s claim is pretty weak.  At best, their patent is more aptly related to the chip maker from which Apple buys their components.  Apples does not, directly, employ any of the ‘protected’ manufacturing techniques in their iPhone.  But equally important, the cited patent is so broad that it, in itself, could easily be argued that it was prior-art well before 1997.  They cite the use of Ga and nitride as part of the patent but their patent covers a well-known manufacturing technique.  It amounts to maintaining a patent protection on all kitchen blenders because you have a patent on a Blueberry Sunrise Smoothie recipe.  Literally, this BU patent is similar to owning a patent on Blueberry Sunrise Smoothie. 

If BU’s claim is upheld, then it would easily also covers just about any modern radio receiver or transmitter (e.g. cellphone, wifi router, etc) as well as as well as LED light bulbs, DVD and Bluray players, laser points, etc.


@Another Twittr: Apple patented the rectangle, and it was upheld, I’ve given up on a logical patent system.


@daemon - Clearly you can not understand fine details, or you would have given up on the “Apple patented the rectangle, and it was upheld” comment.

That is a grossly over-used comment, that shows the person saying it has little to no clue on the intricacies of the cases involved.

Zee Flynn

A marvelous example of how everything, even Harvard, is now owned and operated as another arm of Corporate America.

The Oligarchy is very much alive and flourishing quite well, thank you.  And you MUST contribute to their massive profit margin whenever you do anything, from health care to education, it’s all aimed at for maximum return for the 1% Club.


@iSRS: There is no intricacy involved in the rectangle patent. It’s a patent on the rectangle.

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account