Boston University has launched a litigation offensive against dozens of technology companies, filing 30 patent infringement cases on a single day in Boston federal court.
The university unleashed the blitz on Friday over a patent on material used to produce light-emitting diodes against targets including Canon Inc. for its cameras, Microsoft Corp. for tablet computers and Motorola Mobility Inc. for its smartphones. Also targeted were numerous related companies.
The university had filed 13 cases since October 2012, many involving the same patent, against major corporations and products. They including a lawsuit filed in May against Amazon.com Inc. involving its Kindle products.
Earlier this month, Chief Judge Patti Saris entered judgment against electronic component distributor Sierra IC Inc. after it agreed to a permanent injunction barring it from selling several Samsung products. In June, Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV issued a final judgment against LED supplier LEDLight.com after that company agreed to take a license from the university.
Provost Jean Morrison explained the strategy in an article posted on Tuesday in the university’s online publication, BU Today. “It’s incredibly important for a university to defend its intellectual property,” she said. “We put a great deal of careful thought into the decision to proceed with these lawsuits.”
The companies either declined to comment or could not be immediately reached for comment. McCarter & English, which filed 29 of the fresh cases, declined to comment, while Cesari & McKenna of Boston, which filed the Canon case, did not respond to inquiries.
Lawyers who aren’t involved in any of the latest cases said that universities increasingly are turning to the courts to enforce their intellectual property rights. Historically, universities were coy, allowing a commercial partner who licensed the technology to be the named plaintiff, said Darren Donnelly, an intellectual property litigation partner at Fenwick & West of Mountain View, Calif.
“There’s probably less reluctance by universities to use litigation out of the gate to monetize IP assets,” he said. “Probably a factor is a change in the public perception of patents as an asset class,” Donnelly said.
It is not unheard of for a university to sue companies across an entire industry, said Edward Reines, technology litigation partner in the Redwood Shores, Calif., office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. “As universities look harder and harder for sources of revenue, patent enforcement becomes a more attractive option,” he said.
Universities have collected big verdicts, said Ron Abrams of counsel at Woodland, Hills, Calif.-based Ezra Brutzkus Gubner, who counsels clients on litigation avoidance. “[Patents] are huge revenue centers within the universities,” he said.
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