Shuji Nakamura and Nichia Chemical's Love/Hate Affair with Blue LEDsFrom Business Journal

(Japanese researchers are being treated as "slaves" by corporations and the judiciary, The world should rescue the talented Japanese researchers from Japan.)

After completing his master's degree in engineering at the University of Tokushima, Mr. Nakamura was offered a job at Kyocera, but because he was already married and had a family to support, he joined Nichia Chemical in 1979 and was consistently involved in product development. Mr. Nakamura was known as a "weirdo" in the company for never attending meetings or answering the phone, but he succeeded in commercializing the red LED. However, since red LEDs were already manufactured by other major companies, he could not contribute much to sales and was criticized internally as a "wasteful eater.

Whenever my bosses saw me, they would ask me if I had quit yet. I was trembling with anger. (From the press conference after receiving the award)

It was 1987, eight years after he joined the company. My anger reached its peak. Preparing to resign, he appealed directly to the aforementioned Mr. Ogawa, who was serving as president at the time, and asked for permission to develop blue LEDs, which was said to be impossible at the time. Mr. Ogawa, who was the only one in Nichia who appreciated Mr. Nakamura's "unique ability and talent," immediately said, "Okay. You can do it," he replied immediately. How much will it cost? Mr. Nakamura replied, "We need $5 million," to which Mr. Ogawa replied, "Yes, go ahead. At the time, the yen was appreciating rapidly, and $5 million was equivalent to 800 million yen. This was a huge amount of money for Nichia Chemical, a small and medium-sized company. As a result, Nichia was granted $5 million for research and study in the U.S., and blue LEDs began to see the light of day.

For one year until September 1988, Mr. Nakamura studied at the University of Florida in the U.S. to learn about blue LED technology. While studying in the U.S., he learned that in the U.S., a doctoral degree is considered to be the most important, and he decided that the only way for someone like him without the support of a large organization was to obtain a doctoral degree.

In March 1989, Mr. Ogawa, Nakamura's biggest supporter, fell ill with an incurable disease, and his daughter-in-law Eiji became the second president. Eiji judged that there were no prospects for commercialization and ordered the company to stop the development of blue LEDs. Mr. Nakamura ignored the company's order and continued to throw away the development plan change letter delivered by his boss in the trash, thinking that he could quit the company if the development of blue LEDs failed.

He ignored the company's orders and kept throwing the change of development plan letters from his superiors into the trash. He continued his development against the opposition of those around him, and in March 1992, he established a technology for manufacturing equipment for blue LEDs, for which Nichia applied for a patent. In March 1992, he established a technology for manufacturing blue LEDs, and Nichia filed a patent application for the technology, which is known as the "404 patent. In November 1993, Nichia succeeded in commercializing the blue LED, which was said to be difficult to produce in this century, but Nakamura received only 20,000 yen as a reward from the company.

Mr. Nakamura won many international technology awards for his development of the blue LED, but Nichia did not give him a place in the company for ignoring orders, and he left the company in December 1999. In December 1999, he left the company and became a professor of engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, at the invitation of the university's president, who said, "You should win a Nobel Prize.

After moving to the U.S., Nichia went after Mr. Nakamura. The company filed a lawsuit against Mr. Nakamura on suspicion of leaking trade secrets, claiming that he had leaked patented technology to a rival company. Mr. Nakamura, who was called a "slave" by his fellow researchers in the U.S. when he heard that the compensation for his invention was only 20,000 yen, launched a counterattack against the company, suing the company for confirmation of the ownership of the 404 patent and for 20 billion yen in compensation.

In January 2004, the Tokyo District Court calculated the value of the invention at 60.4 billion yen and ordered Nichia to pay 20 billion yen to Mr. Nakamura. Nichia immediately appealed the decision. The Tokyo High Court recommended a settlement, which was reached in January 2005, with Nichia paying 840 million yen, including delay damages, to Mr. Nakamura. Regarding the possibility of returning to Japan, Mr. Nakamura said, "That's not going to happen. I have decided to stay here (in the U.S.) for my work. The trial was also a decisive factor. I was planning to stay in Japan if I won the case, but that didn't happen, so I moved to the US. This choice was not wrong," he said.

It is said that Nichia won the trial. The company adopted a courtroom tactic of claiming that the 404 patent was worthless, in order to have the compensation for employee inventions reduced by claiming that the 404 patent was not worth 20 billion yen. This strategy was successful, and the Tokyo District Court in the first trial ordered Nichia to pay 20 billion yen, but the settlement amount in the Tokyo High Court in the second trial was much less than that. Although we are not entirely satisfied with the settlement amount, we have decided to accept the advice of our lawyers. I will hand over the baton of the issue of compensation for the transfer of employee inventions to the next runner and return to the world of research and development," said Mr. Nakamura. Mr. Nakamura had planned to fight until the Supreme Court and win the 20 billion yen, but he was persuaded by Hidetoshi Masunaga, a lawyer, to relent. In a press conference at the time, Mr. Nakamura expressed his feelings, saying, "Japan's judiciary is corrupt," and left Japan to become a citizen of the United States.

Nichia Chemical, on the other hand, said, "The court understood almost all of our arguments. In particular, the fact that the court understood that the invention of the blue LED was the result of the efforts and ingenuity of many people, not just one person, is a major achievement. After the lawsuit ended, the company relinquished its patent rights, which it claimed were worthless, without transferring them to Mr. Nakamura.

This time, Mr. Nakamura's invention, which Nichia claimed to be worthless, was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Translation d s by DeepL