Earlier this week, the University of California Santa Barbara filed a lawsuit against five major retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond, for what it calls an “existential threat” to its patents, reports Reuters.
The retailers, which sell this particular bulb, are being accused of “infringing four patents related to ‘filament’ LED light bulbs” by the university. The patents relate to what the University of California Santa Barbara calls the “reinvention of the light bulb;” researchers at the university’s Solid State Lighting and Energy Electronics Center said they developed the technology that helps the bulbs disperse light, Bloomberg says. These LED bulbs use 90 percent less energy and last longer than traditional bulbs. The bulbs became available to consumers in the last five years in the United States, “where sales in 2019 are expected to top $1 billion,” Reuters says, pointing to court papers.
The University of California Santa Barbara is seeking “unspecified damages” in the lawsuit, including royalties, and wants all five retailers to enter license agreements. The retailers did not immediately respond to media requests, Reuters says.
The University of California Santa Barbara’s lawyers say that this case litigation is the “first-of-its-kind ‘direct patent enforcement’ campaign against an entire industry.” The lawsuit intended “‘to spearhead a broader, national response to the existential threat’ posed by the ‘widespread disregard’ for the patent rights of universities, including when schools encourage the private sector to develop commercial products containing their research,” Reuters says.
Based on Reuters’s and Bloomberg’s reports, it seems a trend is starting where universities are cracking down on research and innovation opportunities they provide to third parties in order to better protect themselves. University research and innovations are considered key assets in numerous fields – including medicine, agriculture and computerization, Bloomberg says – and to the United States’ overall economy. “The licensing of academic patents to industries contributed $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy between 1996 and 2017,” according to Bloomberg.
As a result, decision makers and companies that work closely with universities should keep these relationships in mind, and what assets are at stake for both parties. Doing so can help make sure that both sides end up in a win-win situation, where property is protected, money can be made, and end users are kept happy.