UC Santa Barbara launched a full-scale legal assault this week on five major retailers — Walmart, Target, Ikea, Amazon, and Bed Bath & Beyond — that the university claims ripped off its patented filament LED lighting technology used to make vintage-looking “Edison” light bulbs with glowing filaments. “Researchers at UC Santa Barbara have dedicated years to developing technology that reinvented the traditional incandescent light bulb,” the university said in a prepared statement, “creating an option for consumers and businesses that requires less energy, creates less heat, and distributes light in all directions.”
UCSB says as soon as the bulbs came on the market in 2014, it sent cease-and-desist notices to infringers and tried to establish licenses with companies in the lighting industry, but all to no avail. “As a result, UC Santa Barbara has opted to take more aggressive action through the initiation of these legal actions,” the university said. The Edison bulb industry is now worth around $1 billion.
The university is being represented by law firm Nixon Peabody LLP, which said this is a first-of-its-kind “direct patent enforcement campaign against an entire industry.” Because the bulbs are mostly made overseas, the lawsuit is targeting the alleged infringement that occurs when filament LED products arrive on U.S. soil and enter the retail marketplace.
“The goal of this campaign is to ensure that UC’s patent rights are respected so it can reinvest in education and research to create more world-changing technologies,” said Seth Levy with Nixon Peabody. “It also is a message to entities throughout the private sector that university intellectual property rights cannot be infringed with impunity.”