MIT uses patent from 1997 to sue Apple over chips

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a patent lawsuit against Apple and its suppliers this week, claiming that semiconductor wafers found in the company’s computers and mobile devices infringe on a patent obtained by two academics more than 15 years ago.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Boston federal court, claims that Idaho-based Micron Technology knew about a laser-cutting method described in the patent, but used it all the same when supplying DRAM semiconductor devices for products like iPhones, iPads and MacBook Airs.

The patent itself was issued to Joseph Bernstein, who is now an engineering professor in Israel, and a co-inventor, Zhihui Duan. MIT claims it controls the right to the patent, which has a 1997 filing date and was issued in 2000. The school says it’s entitled to damages and to royalties on all Apple products that contain chips using the laser method in question.

I’m not qualified to pronounce on the technology but, for those of you who can, here’s what the patent claims:

a method for cutting a link between interconnected circuits comprising the following steps:Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 12.51.08 PM

directing a laser upon an electrically-conductive cut-link pad conductively bonded between a first electrically-conductive line and a second electrically-conductive line on a substrate,
the cut-link pad having substantially less thermal resistance per unit length than each of the first and second lines, wherein the width of the cut-link pad is at least ten percent greater than the width of each of the first and second electrically-conductive lines; and maintaining the laser upon the cut-link pad until the laser infuses sufficient energy into the cut-link pad to break the conductive link across the cut-link pad between the pair of electrically-conductive lines.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is not the first time that a Massachusetts university has come calling on Apple with demands over patents from long ago. In 2013, Boston University used a patent from 1997 that covered blue LED lights to team up with a contingency-based law firm from Texas to seek an order banning the sale of the iPhone 5, and then moved on to make similar demands of dozens of other tech firms.

Such tactics by universities are unpopular with many in Silicon Valley, and raise the question of whether the lawsuits based on old patents are really promoting innovation, or are instead just an attempt by lawyer and technology transfer offices to rustle up more cash.

Here’s the filing:

MIT v Apple

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