Apple hit by patent suit from Boston University

The suit alleges that Apple has violated a patent held by one of the school's computer engineering professors.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney

Apple is on the receiving end of a patent lawsuit from one of the country's top universities.

In a suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, Boston University claims that a part used in the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air was patented by computer engineering professor Theodore Moustakas in 1997, the Boston Herald has reported.

The patent known as "Highly insulating monocrystalline gallium nitride thin films" refers to a semiconductor component invented by the professor.

"Defendant's acts of infringement have caused and will continue to cause substantial and irreparable damage to the University," BU said in its complaint.

This isn't the university's first attempt to fight for this patent, the Herald said. Over the past year, BU has filed the same complaint against other companies, including Samsung and Amazon.

Is this a case of patent trolling, or does the university have a legitimate claim? Either way, Apple could end up on the losing side, at least according to one analyst.

"Courts can be irrational in these cases," analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates told the Herald. "You get these ridiculous judgments sometimes and they may think of Apple as a big, rich company that doesn't deserve all that money."

A winning ruling could award BU as much as $75 million, Kay added.