An Interview with Shuji Nakamura, Co-Founder of Soraa and Inventor of the Blue LED; Discusses Nichia Litigation

Shuji.jpgAt Strategies in Light, your humble editor sat down with Shuji Nakamura.  We primarily discussed his initial role in development of today’s LED. 

Mr. Reid:  When you were working at Nichia and you invented the blue LED, did you have any idea that it would have the impact that we are seeing?

Mr. Nakamura:  I did.  I realized that creating white light using the blue LED would change the world of lighting.   I started the work in 1989 and Nichia commercialized it in December of 1993.

Mr. Reid:  But did you foresee the huge commercial opportunities that would be created because of your invention?

Mr. Nakamura:  I did and it is happening very fast now.  

Mr. Reid:  There was a bit of litigation between you and Nichia over the patent.Shuji3.jpg

Mr. Nakamura:  After I left the company, I worked for the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Nichia came to me and asked me to sign a confidentiality agreement.  UC recommended against signing such an agreement so I refused.  Approximately one year later, Nichia sued me.  They said they were concerned about a possibility of my infringing upon trade secrets.  

I had to do something so in 2001 I sued Nichia. Japan has a special patent law and I had about 300 patents with Nichia.   The inventor has the patent rights at first, not the company.  If I had signed the agreement, the company would get the patent rights. In my case, there were no signed agreements. Even if the company could get patent rights from the inventors, the company has to give a reasonable compensation to the inventors.

I won the countersuit and was awarded $600M.   Nichia appealed to a higher court, which recommended a settlement of $8M.

Shuji2.jpgMr. Reid:  From $600M to $8M.  What was that like?

At this point Mr.Nakamura declined to speak further on the litigation.

Mr. Reid:  Tell me about starting Soraa. 

Mr. Nakamura:  I founded Soraa with my colleagues Professors Steven DenBaars and Jim Speck in 2008.  Between 2000 and 2006 most research at University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB)  was GaN on Saphire or SiC.   We began doing research in 2006 on GaN on GaN at UCSB.  Funding was secured in 2008 for the start-up company and we really focused on strategy and stealth research of the company during 2008 and 2009. In 2010 we moved our operations from Santa Barbara to the Silicon Valley area. Mike Krames joined from LumiLeds as our CTO in 2009, and Eric Kim from Intel joined as our CEO in 2010 to focus the company on mass production and commercialization of the world's first GaN on GaN product in the form of an LED MR16 lamp. We started shipping this product in 2012.