CALL US: 206.533.3854
CALL US  206.533.3854
AEON Law logo full color transparent

How Much Does A Nobel Prize Winning Patent Sell For?

Bulbs win Nobel Prize
But invention sells for just
One hundred eighty

One of the materials scientists who just won the Nobel Prize for physics sold the rights to his invention for $180. This year’s physics prize is shared by Isamu Akasaki of Meijo University, Hiroshi Amano of Nagoya University, and Shuji Nakamura of UC-Santa Barbara. They were recognized for their work on the “blue LED problem.” Red LEDs were invented in the 1950s. Green followed. But it took until 1992 for the inventors to create the first blue LED. Introducing the blue LEDs made it possible to create full-color LED screens and also to use colored LEDs to produce white light – and thus white LED light bulbs. (LED light bulbs produce white light by combining all three colors.) LED bulbs are energy-efficient and long-lasting, and they give off a “warmer” light than compact fluorescent bulbs. The men also independently invented blue semiconductor lasers, which led to Blu-ray movie disc technology.

At the time of his invention, Nakamura, who now holds more than 100 patents, was working for Nichia Chemicals in Tokushima, Japan. Under Japanese law, patents are granted to researchers who make the discoveries that lead to patentable inventions. However, inventors may transfer their rights to a corporation in exchange for undefined compensation, which is typically nominal. Nakamura received $180 (some sources say $170 or $200) for his invention. After leaving Japan for the US, he sued Nichia in 2001 for $16 million in additional compensation. Nakamura estimated that Nichia’s sales of LEDs made using his invention were $400 million in 2000.

In 2004, the Tokyo District Court found that Nichia earned more than $1.1 billion in profits from Nakamura’s blue LEDs and awarded him $180 million in compensation – a million times more than he originally earned. The parties settled in 2005 for the equivalent of about $9 million, which at the time was the largest bonus paid by a Japanese company to an inventor.

This year’s Nobel Prize for Physics is unusual in that it recognizes an invention that is practical, rather than theoretical. Last year’s prize went to the discoverers of the Higgs boson, which seems unlikely to have consumer applications any time soon.

Related Articles

Just Because It’s on the Internet Doesn’t Mean It’s “Publicly Accessible”

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB or Board) has denied institution of a petition for inter partes review (IPR) because the petitioner failed to ...
Read More

Trademark Denied for “ChatGPT”

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has denied OpenAI’s applications to trademark “ChatGPT” and “GPT.” The Final Office Action states, “Registration is refused because the applied-for mark ...
Read More

Federal Circuit: “Improving User Experience” Isn’t Patentable

The Federal Circuit has affirmed a lower court decision that patent claims for methods and systems for improving how search results are displayed to users ...
Read More

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive Patent Poetry—a monthly roundup of key IP issues in our signature haiku format. Four articles (only 68 syllables); zero hassle.



Artificial Intelligence

Blockchain & Cryptocurrency

Computer Technology & Software

Consumer Electronics

Electrical Devices



Mechanical Devices

Consumer & Retail Products

Hardware & Tools

Toys & Games



Chemical Compounds

Digital Health

Healthcare Products



Books & Publications

Brand Creation

Luxury Products

Photography & Video

Product Design