Boston University sues Apple over 1997 patent, asks for ban on iPhone sales

iPhone 5 iOS 7 WWDC Apple screenshot phone iOS

How do college students feel about this one? The powers that be at Boston University want a federal court to ban the sale of a wide range of Apple products — including the iPhone 5, the iPad and the MacBook Air — because they allegedly infringe a patent issued to one of its professors in 1997.

In a complaint filed this week in the Massachusetts federal court, the trustees of BU say the Apple products contain a “gallium nitride thin film semiconductor device” that is still under patent protection. Professor Theodore Moustakas applied for the patent in 1995, which means it is set to expire in 2015. Here’s an image from the patent, which describes the use of nitrogen to prepare a type of film that is “a potential source of inexpensive and compact solid-state blue lasers:”

Patent screenshot

Boston University is not only seeking an injunction banning the sale of a wide range of Apple products, but is also asking for an accounting of Apple’s profits — meaning the school wants Apple to hand over its earnings from the last few years. If that happens, lucky BU students can expect free tuition and gold-plated water fountains (which would presumably make up for the absence of new Apple gear).

More realistically, Apple will attack the patent or else settle quietly. The episode is likely to raise the question, yet again, of how well the patent system, and the 20 year monopolies it awards, are serving America’s digital economy. In this case, some may wonder why it took BU so long to commence their gold-mining expedition. You can read the complaint for yourself here:

BU v Apple

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