Boston University Patent Lawsuit Targets the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air

Apple joins Samsung and Amazon in the school's legal crosshairs.

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An image from Theodore Moustakas's 1997 patent

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned my alma mater, Boston University, in a article I’ve written about technology. But BU is all over Techmeme today: It’s suing Apple over a 1997 patent. The university says that display technologies used by the iPhone 5, iPad and MacBook Air, among other products, violate the patent. It’s seeking damages and an injunction which would ban sales of the products in question.

(Further full disclosure: Multiple family members other than myself also attended the university, and my parents worked there for a combined total of something like sixty years.)

Unlike certain pundits, I cheerfully admit that I don’t know enough about patents to have a well-informed opinion about every news story that involves them. BU’s suit does seem to involve a patent on something specific invented at the university. That sets it apart from the trolls which acquired bizarrely broad software patents they can use to shake down everyone in sight. But whether Professor Theodore Moustakas’s  patent on “highly insulating monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films” is a genuine landmark which deserves to stand up in court, I do not know. So I’m not rooting for either side.

I am willing to make one prediction, though: Whether it wins, loses or settles out of court, BU will take a public-relations hit as it sues Apple and asks the feds to force the company to pull some of the world’s most popular consumer-electronics devices off the market. (The school had already filed suits against Samsung and Amazon, among others, without attracting much attention.)

However the lawsuit turns out, BU can continue to brag that it helped make not just the iPhone but all phones possible. Alexander Graham Bell was a professor at the university when he invented the telephone in in 1876. You can, um, learn more about that connection in the Mr. Peabody and Sherman cartoon below, which further reveals that Mr. Peabody deserves at least as much credit for the telephone as Bell did.

Come to think of it, everyone who grew up on Rocky and Bullwinkle knows that the brainy pooch played an essential role in any number of breakthroughs. I wonder why he’s never sued anyone?