Score a big one for all inventive technologists the world over, who know precisely
what needs to be accomplished and are willing to put in the years of hard work
and dedication required to achieve their goals. Shuji Nakamura’s court win of
20 billion yen (USA $188.7 million at that day’s exchange rate) on Friday,
January 30th in Japan, awarded to him by Judge Ryoichi Mimura, represents only
a fraction of what the judge said was his rightful due. Nichia was judged to
have earned royalties of approximately 120.8 billion yen and noted in this precedent-setting
case, that Shuji contributed 50% to the production of that original blue spectrum
device, and should therefore receive 60.4 billion yen. 20 billion yen was all
he asked for. But like so many technology champions, he’s never been in it for
Judge Ryoichi Mimura’s most notable quote, explaining his ruling, was that
”the invention was a totally rare example of a world-class invention achieved
by the inventor’s individual ability and unique ideas in a poor research environment
at a small company.” The blue spectrum work that altered the course of
compound semi technology, and subsequently the lighting and solid state laser
industries, was undertaken in what amounted to a technology void, throughout
the 1980s and 1990s, in the remote Japanese city of Anan, in the Tokushima Prefecture.
Nichia, which was established in classic style immediately following WW II to
help bring jobs to the Prefecture, had been firmly rooted in old world technology
before Shuji came to work for them in 1975. His vision and hard work, which
involved creating his own MOCVD tool to get the results he wanted out of GaN-based
material, has since totally changed the face of Nichia and allowed it to become
the world leader in blue spectrum LEDs and laser diodes that it is today.
First off Shuji’s homebrew tool came the Blue LED, which he made brighter and
brighter and made it last longer and longer. Then came all the other hues in
the blue spectrum… green, violet, ultraviolet, and ultimately, the white LED.
Then came the industry’s premier solid state blue laser. The technology world
was first stunned by the accomplishment, then they all jumped on the Group III
Nitride bandwagon, which has been rolling toward prominence ever since. Then
the blue spectrum IP disputes began, and in 1999, Shuji left Nichia, under trying
circumstances, and moved to the USA to become a professor at the University
of California at Santa Barbara, where he is now employed and continues his brilliant
News of Shuji’s unprecedented court win, the largest in Japanese history and
probably one of the largest in the world, even though a fraction of what was
deemed to be his due, is being regarded as a huge moral victory for all technology
innovators everywhere. Past, present, and future. When the news reached the
USA early Friday, USA time, the emails and calls started coming in. This was
one of those times when news made in Asia literally and figuratively woke up
Americans. By close of business Friday, coast to coast USA time, the compound
semi community who tuned in set out to spend the weekend toasting Shuji. So
Superbowl Weekend had a double meaning for Americans this year, especially
those in the Nakamura Lab at UCSB, and especially for those of us throughout
the world who have become his longtime friends and colleagues. The feeling was
an especially good cap to his friends in Asia, where almost everyone was completing
the long Lunar New Year holidays. What a way to kick off a new year!
At the annual Strategies
In Light (SIL) conference this week in California, Tuesday and Wednesday,
Shuji’s victory will likely be quantified and qualified and woven in and out
of conversations, and the importance and ramifications of his contributions
revealed in more detail. The bottomline always comes out the same. With Shuji
guiding blue light breakthroughs by literally setting initial standards of growth
of such brighter, longer life blue spectrum LEDs and LDs, the HB-LED business
wouldn’t be where it is today.
Where is the business today and where is it headed? Strategies Unlimited’s
Bob Steele and consultant Bob Walker will report details and numbers you can
count on. They’ve just come off detailed interviews and assessments and hard
calculations and it looks like HB-LEDs (all colors) will reach well above
$5 billion in the 2008 timeframe. We’ll be reporting exact numbers Thursday,
after they’re reported in person to the +300 attendees at SIL… the industry’s
truly premier gathering of the HB-LED industry. These two market prognosticators
will share with everyone an update again at our Blue
2004 gathering in Taiwan in May. Bob Walker is serving as co-chair of the
event and Bob Steele is our keynote speaker. While the Nitride blue spectrum
devices are the stars of the show, we’ll be covering all the HB-LED field and
all the leading edge laser diodes, especially the blue lasers going into next
gen HD-DVDs and hard drives.
Who are the leaders? Shuji put Nichia in the lead and Nichia, which
remains a critically important company in the field, continues to lead the pack
in blue spectrum LEDs and LDs. Cree is about the only other company to specialize
specifically in blue, covering both as well. In the USA, along with Cree is
Lumileds, which provides the best of the best in all colors of HB-LEDs, with
Toyoda Gosei in Japan and Osram Opto in Germany in the same overall league.
Although not all are doing LDs, they have all become masters of the blue spectrum.
But the most impressive, overall buildup in HB-LEDs of all colors, including
the blues, is in Taiwan. There are now over 250 MOCVD tools in place in Taiwan.
Steve Cummins of Veeco will shed more light at SIL in his talk which closes
the proceedings, detailing the huge contribution these reactors have made, and
will continue to make, on the world market.
Talk at SIL, and at Blue 2004 will likely include the question "is this
a precedent-setting decision for all technologists and inventors? In Japan,
and possibly in other countries outside the USA, definitely! But would such
a court award be reached in the USA for a technologist who was employed at the
time? According to the first wave of legal friends who have checked in, like
Steve Smith of Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione in Chicago, Illinois who not only
specializes in IP issues, but himself was a noted compound semi industry technologist
before becoming a lawyer, "the way the laws are structured here versus
the structure there, an inventor would not win. Once, in the USA, when the inventor
assigns the invention to the company and/or depending upon the employee agreement,
there is not much of a chance for the inventor to ever win. They would have
to prove a very heavy burden that they were taken advantage of. At the very
least there has to be some sort of inequitable behavior on the part of the company.
And that is very hard for an ’employee’ to prove." So don’t go getting
your hopes up. That’s probably why so many USA inventors tend to now form their
own companies. That route is getting especially popular with university professors.
Did anyone really believe, back in the early 1990s, that the business
would grow this large, so quickly? We had our hunches. I had the absolute privilege
and honor to be the technology journalist that broke Shuji’s blue spectrum story
in the USA, which, as a freelancer at the time, I wrote for EE Times.
I first met Shuji at an IEDM meet just after he’d gotten his initial blue LED
working. It was his first formal presentation in the USA and I was the only
journalist who attended his session. When he flashed the sample blue LED, thanks
to all the briefing I’d had in the years proceeding from my USA, Russian, and
European wide bandgap research friends, I truly understood what Shuji had accomplished…
almost single-handedly, and against incredible hurdles. That’s why what he has
contributed to science and technology is considered by many, myself included,
to be Nobel Prize-worthy. And that’s why Shuji was our selection for our initial
Award at the original Blue event in 2003.
In that IEDM audience, during Q&A, when most questions focused on the intricacies
of growing GaN LEDs to make them bright enough in green, blue, violet, ultraviolet,
and thus paving the way to white, I helped put the capper on the session by
publicly asking Shuji if, since he’d reached such impressive brightness levels
and lifetimes, could the elusive blue laser be far behind? He smiled, gave a
short, but optimistic answer, and we began a trusting friendship. Ever since,
he’s taken part in every live blue spectrum-related event I’ve organized and
I’ve tried to report any news relating to his IP and personal litigation struggles,
his departure from Nichia, and his subsequent affiliation with UCSB, with clarity
Like Shuji, I am enamored with the blue laser. While I fully appreciate the
blue spectrum LED sector, the blue laser is a story of the scientists’ classic
"Holy Grail." That story… call it the uncovering of the very Soul
of a New Technology… is one that now has an incredible hook. How could
any new technology be so important that it yields the lone inventive technologist
a whopping $188 million? And do it the hard way… through the courts, and after
25 years of literally slaving away, to make that technology live up to expectations.
I’m not a technologist, but I sincerely appreciate their work. Enough to make
their missions my missions. I’ve been prodded to write the blue spectrum story
from my personal, eyewitness viewpoint. And I will. My "Life in the
Laser Lane" has been memorable and exciting, but only because I’ve
been able to know the technologists, like Shuji, themselves. They bring passion
to their fields, so it’s easy for me to be equally passionate. They’ve been
patient and stayed focused, because all technologies take years, usually one’s
entire lifetime, to come to fruition. So it’s easy for me to be patient and
focused in rolling out "their story."
And in case you weren’t personally part of the story, trust me. You’re going
to love this one. And if Shuji continues to triumph through the appeals process
which Nichia has begun, which may well take this case to the Japanese Supreme
Court, it’s an even more compelling story because it has such a happy ending
for the Master of the Blue Spectrum, Shuji Nakamura.