Shipments of Apple’s Macbook Air, iPhone and iPad are in danger of being halted thanks to a patent lawsuit filed by Boston University.
According to paperwork filled by the institution in a Boston area court, Boston University believes that Apple is infringing on some of the manufacturing techniques that it holds patents on. The patents in question center on U.S. Patent 4,686,238 and involve a technique used to “insulate monocrystaline gallium nitride thin films”. In effect, it’s a process that allows device manufacturers to produce blue lasers at a cheaper cost.
The United States Patent and Trade office lists Boston University professor Theodor D. Moustakas as the process’s inventor, though Boston University holds the rights, titles and interest related to the patent. Moustakas is a professor of Electrical and Compute Engineering at the university.
Boston University’s fillings asks that Apple compensate the university for violating its patent and includes language asking the court to ban Apple from selling and creating any more products that infringe on Boston University’s patent.
If Apple is found guilty it could be forced to halt sales of their devices in the United States, though it’s also possible that Apple would simply settle and pay Boston University in exchange for using the production techniques described in the patent.
Having sued Samsung for copying some of the trademarks of the iPhone, Apple isn’t a stranger to lawsuits. Neither is Boston University. The university has already sued other technology companies for their use of the same manufacturing technique and, according to the Boston Herald, has successfully convinced at least one company to simply pay for using the technique violating the patent. Unfortunately, that source didn’t indicate which company that might be. Companies targeted by Boston University include Amazon and Samsung.
In order to win the case against Apple, Boston University will have to prove that professor Moustakas and the university had plans to monetize that patent.
Patents have become a tool used to inconvenience and possibly kill off competitors in the wireless industry lately. Notably, Microsoft has gone after Android device manufacturers like HTC for years and is possibly making more money from patents that Android infringes on than it makes with its Windows Phone operating system.
Many believe that patent fights like these hurt the creative process and force companies to compromise more ambitious products in favor of hiring lawyers.