Boston University raised eyebrows in July when it claimed Apple was infringing a nearly two-decade old patent, and asked a federal court to ban a range of popular products such as the iPhone 5 and the MacBook Air.
Despite public criticism over the lawsuit, the school has apparently doubled down on the patent strategy, filing a wave of new lawsuits last week against more than 25 tech companies, including Microsoft, Dell, BlackBerry, Motorola and Nokia.
As with its case against Apple, Boston University claims that products like Microsoft’s Surface RT and the BlackBerry Z10 include a “gallium nitride thin film semiconductor” that one of its professors patented in 1997.
The litigation could prove controversial as the Apple lawsuit attracted scorn from investor Mark Cuban and many in the technology sector.
In response to an email inquiry about whether the aggressive assertion of old patents conflicted with universities’ research mission, a Boston University spokesman last month offered the following statement:
“Over a decade ago, Boston University developed and patented technology that is now widely used in products that include blue LEDs. As exclusive owner of that patented technology, only Boston University and those who have licensed our patent can make, use, or sell products containing that technology. [...] Boston University vigorously protects the inventions, patents, and other intellectual property of its faculty and researchers.”
The idea of tapping patent portfolios is popular among universities as a way to raise revenue and burnish their image as technology centers. But the the strategy has come under questioning of late, including by the journal Nature which noted that a surfeit of intellectual property pushes schools into “unseemly partnerships” with so-called patent trolls.
Boston University’s decision to expand its patent campaign coincides with efforts by the government of Massachusetts to make the state a more attractive place for young people to start technology companies.
Here’s one of the recent complaints: