Boston University wants to ban the sale of a plethora of Apple products, including the iPhone 5, iPad and MacBook Air, over an alleged violation of a patent acquired by one if it’s professors in 1995.
According to Gigaom, “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:”
Along with the halting of product sales, BU wants Apple to share a great deal of its profits from the last few years. While the case likely will never see trial—these kinds of things typically end up getting settled quietly out of court—BU’s lawsuit raises an interesting standing question: why can the University actually sue Apple in the first place?
Accoring to Forbes, even if Apple doesn’t make the product which violates the patent in question, they can still be sued for importing the product from a foreign nation into the United States:
“The implication of this is that it’s entirely legal for anyone who wants to to make these lasers this way in, say, China, [South] Korea or Taiwan. Which is, as we know, where a lot of such electronics does get made these days. It’s also entirely legal to sell equipment containing such lasers in countries where there is no patent.
“There is only a restriction on importing equipment containing these patented devices into a country where there is a valid patent. Thus the suing of not the manufacturers (largely Hon Hai, or Foxconn, here), nor even of the component manufacturers, but of the importers of the offending goods.”
And what’s a good court case without a little bit of irony? Just over a year ago, two professors at Boston University published a report that claimed patent trolling—when a non-producer (like BU) sues a company allegedly violating one of its patents (like Apple)—costs the American economy $29 billion.