Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Today's Nobel Prize and Employee Inventor Compensation

In many countries, the law requires employers to compensate employee inventors for their inventions.  This is not a topic I write or blog about very much, because it's a little far afield from the law of patent remedies as such and (so far) I haven't taken the time to immerse myself in the relevant literature.  Occasionally, though, I have touched upon it, because (1) in some countries courts sometimes may consider the royalties employers have been required to pay employees, when they are trying to set an appropriate royalty in an infringement case (see my book, p.269, discussing German law); and (2) similar factors may be relevant for purposes of determining royalties in both settings.  Some notable disputes over employee remuneration have arisen in, among other places, Japan.   As I noted in this post from June 25, 2014, for example, "the March 2014 issue of AIPPI-Journal of Japanese Group of AIPPI has an article (pp. 39-46) by former USPTO Director David Kappos and AIPPI Japan Vice President Kenichi Nagasawa titled Japan's Article 35:  Are Employee-Inventor Monetary Award Laws Impeding Japanese Innovation?  The article discusses the Japanese law on employee remuneration (which, according to the authors, is currently under consideration for reform) and compares the situation with the U.S. (where the matter is left up to the market), Germany, South Korea, and China."

Anyway, I thought it was interesting that today's Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura for "Efficient Blue Light-Emitting Diodes Leading to Bright and Energy-Saving White Light Sources," is for research that led to an employee remuneration lawsuit in Japan, according to this article from today's Japan News. According to the article, Dr. Nakamura (who is now a professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara in the United States) filed suit in Japan in 2001 against his former employer, Nichia Corporation, "seeking eventually ¥20 billion for his contribution during his former employment at the company for the invention of blue LEDs.  The company, which owns the patents on the revolutionary lights, was ordered by the Tokyo District Court in 2004 to pay the full amount demanded.  But in 2005, both sides reached an agreement at the Tokyo High Court to settle the matter out of court for a total amount of ¥685.7 million," or approximately U.S.$ 6 million.

Anyway, congratulations to the three physicists.  Here is today's article on the prize from the New York Times, and here is a link to a Royal Swedish Academy of Science paper on the Scientific Background on the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2014.

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