In this blog post I look at the vintage light bulbs lawsuit filed by the University of California Santa Barbara
Here at LightBulb AtoZ we are big fans of the Edison style vintage bulbs. For example the one from Brightech shown in the photo above. So, we were a little surprised to read a piece from CNN about how the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) is suing a number of light bulb retailers for not paying it anything for selling items based on their patented technology.
If you are interested in the best vintage lights bulbs to choose, you can check out our reviews here: Best Vintage Bulbs
How Do Vintage Light Bulbs Work?
To begin with lets consider how we can make white light. Firstly, thinking back to high school physics we mix red, blue and green light. So if we had 3 LEDs, one green, one blue and one red then we could combine them to produce white light.
However it took scientist a while to develop a blue LED. And it was not until 1993 that Physicists Isamu Akaski and Hiroshi Amano developed a high quality one.
Shortly after, in 1996 Nakamuri worked out a way to coat the new blue LED with phosphor. This produced a yellow light. And mixing this yellow light with the original blue created a light that looked white to the human eye. So Nakamuri jumped over the need to use 3 diodes and laid the path for modern LED light bulbs.
A LED is made of a number of components. The part that actually emits the light is a semiconductor wafer (the is the diode part of light emitting diode). In a normal LED this is a small circular wafer. However it can really be any shape. For example it can be a long thin tube that fits over a wire. And this tube can be made to resemble a filament, just like in the old Edison bulbs. Or any old light bulb.
So the process developed by Shiji Nakamuri allows people to make LED light bulbs that look like the old filament light bulbs. And are a little more stylish (in my opinion) that the normal opaque ones.
In 2014 Nakamuri received the Nobel Prize for Physics for his work developing the blue/white LED.
So is The Vintage Light Bulbs Lawsuit About?
Well the problem is that Nakamuri, who is a professor at UCSB, developed the process for creating this diode that looks like a filament. And UCSB holds several patents related on it. But the manufactures of these new vintage style bulbs are not paying any royalties to USCB.
Why Not Sue The Manufacturers?
A large number of manufactures make these vintage style light bulbs overseas (almost exclusively in China). Targeting these manufactures would be difficult for UCSB. Either they would have to sue them through the overseas court system or ask the International Trade Commission to block imports.
So Who Are They Suing?
As these vintage style light bulbs are being sold directly by retailers here in the U.S. it is easier for UCSB to sue them, rather than the overseas manufacturers.
So, in July 2019 UCSB launched a lawsuit against five major retailers who represented a cross section of companies selling LED light bulbs. Namely: Walmart, Amazon, IKEA, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Target.
Rather than pursuing the lawsuit directly UCSB is partnering with a specialist litigation funding firm, Longford Capital. USCB says that this lets them avoid having to divert funds from other areas to fund the lawsuit.
In August 2020 USCB and Nixon Peabody extended the lawsuit to cover other companies selling vintage bulbs based on their filament technology. These companies include: General Electric, Savant Systems, Feit Electric, Home Depot and Satco.
A number of US manufacturing companies have now licensed the technology from UCSB. At the time of writing this the companies include Bed, Bath and Beyond, Globe Electric, LEDVANCE, Sunlight
How Does The Lawsuit It Affect Me?
Well if you are like me and work in an industry where intellectual property is very important then you should support UCSB. So the next time you consider buying a vintage style light bulb, pop down to Bed, Bath and Beyond, or buy one online from Sunlight and support our American institutions in developing new technology for the future.
You can find a list of manufactures who are licensing the technology from USCB here.
Sources: Vintage Light Bulbs Lawsuit
CNN: Walmart, Amazon and Ikea sued over Edison light bulbs
The LA Times: UC Santa Barbara sues Walmart, Amazon and others over LED lightbulbs,
Longford Capital: Partnering with Universities to Advance Innovation
UC Santa Barbera: Filament LED Lighting Patents