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Blue LED inventor settles with Japanese employer

A dispute over the right of an employee to profit from an invention he made at work settled in Japan last week for $8.1 million – far short of the $189 million initially awarded by a court, but still seen as a worker's victory against corporate Japan.12 Jan 2005

Professor Shuji Nakamura invented blue LEDs (light-emitting diodes) while working at chemical company Nichia Corp. Blue LEDs are used as indicator lights in electronic equipment, car dashboards and traffic lights. For his contribution, his employer gave him a bonus of just $200 – while it made a fortune.

Nakamura left the company and, in 2001, he sued. He won in a district court but Nichia appealed and, according to Japanese news site Asahi Shimbun, the High Court recommended in December that the two sides should settle the dispute for a figure that would not put the company's survival in jeopardy.

"Although I remain completely dissatisfied with the contents of the settlement, I have decided to accept the settlement on the advice of my lawyers," he told Asahi Shimbun. "I will return to the world of research and development where I belong."

Nakamura's lawyer, Hidetoshi Masunaga, told the Mainichi Daily News that, while the settlement falls short of the original award, "it represents a major victory for the researcher who claimed his rights as an individual."

Professor Nakamura, now at the University of California, has since helped to develop green and white LEDs. According to his University, white LEDs are likely to replace today's incandescent light bulbs with long-lasting devices based on semiconductors.

In the UK the right of inventors to compensation for workplace inventions was updated by the Patents Act 2004. If an employee in the UK invents something in the course of his employment, the employer owns the rights to any patent that follows. The employee is entitled to an award of compensation – so long as it is of "outstanding" benefit to the employer. Further details are at the links below.

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