Cree sues BridgeLux for patent infringement (update)

Sept. 20, 2006
Cree is suing a rival chip maker over patents relating to light extraction structures used in LEDs, and to gallium nitride-based buffer technology.

Cree has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against a rival LED chip-maker BridgeLux, Inc.

The lawsuit alleges that BridgeLux (formerly eLite Optoelectronics) has infringed US patents 6,657,236 and 5,686,738.

Filed in the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, the lawsuit seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief to prohibit BridgeLux from infringing these patents.

Robert Walker, CEO of BridgeLux, responded to the lawsuit by saying, "We believe in the importance of respecting the intellectual property rights of others, just as we expect that others will respect our rights. However, we also believe this lawsuit to be without merit, and we will vigorously defend against the claims that have been brought."

US patent 6,657,236, which is assigned to Cree Lighting Company, is entitled "Enhanced Light Extraction in LEDs through the Use of Internal and External Optical Elements," relates to light extraction structures used in LEDs.

US patent 5,686,738, entitled "Highly Insulating Monocrystalline Gallium Nitride Thin Films," relates to semiconductor devices manufactured using a gallium nitride-based buffer technology. The buffer specifically comprises a GaN layer and one or more doped GaN layers.

The '738 patent is owned by the Trustees of Boston University and licensed to Cree on an exclusive basis. Boston University is a co-plaintiff in the suit.

The '738 patent was also the subject of two prior suits brought by Cree and Boston University against Nichia Corporation and AXT (a former LED manufacturer). Cree and Nichia resolved their multi-faceted patent dispute in 2002 with a cross-licensing agreement, while Cree's dispute with AXT over the '738 patent was settled in March 2004 (Cree settles AXT litigation over GaN LEDs).

Interestingly, eLite Optoelectronics was founded in December 2002 by former employees of AXT's LED operation. (Substrate manufacturer AXT sold its LED manufacturing business to China-based Lumei Optoelectronics in 2003.)

Commenting on the lawsuit against BridgeLux, Cree chairman and CEO Charles Swoboda said it was a demonstration of Cree's willingness to protect its R&D investments and patent rights. "This is especially at a time when some segments of the LED marketplace act as if there are no issues with intellectual property," he said.

This could be a veiled reference to the IP-Secure Lighting Alliance, founded by BridgeLux and Intematix. The group brings together LED industry suppliers who are able to certify that their products do not infringe on other companies' intellectual property.