The changing patentability of LED lighting

On Behalf of | Sep 21, 2021 | Patents |

Nearly 150 years ago, inventors around the world were working on a bright idea: the incandescent light bulb. The faint light of incandescent bulbs lit the world for decades but has in recent years been outshone by the compact fluorescent light (CFL) and the light-emitting diode (LED).

Illumination options available today are about to be irreversibly changed and expanded by the incredibly durable LED – a light source so durable that light fixtures as we know them will undergo radical changes. With long-lasting LED bulbs, new fixtures will no longer be yoked to traditional fixture designs that always had to allow consumers to remove and replace bulbs.

Freed from the past

A couple of other design liberations: fixtures will no longer need to include standard sockets and, because the voltage required by LEDs is minimal, wiring distances and insulation thickness will cease to be design hindrances.

“Light fixtures” could become design artifacts as illumination is incorporated in structures and objects in new and exciting ways.

Getting ready for IP war

A recent post by European patent law attorney Brax Matti noted that electronics manufacturers are positioning themselves to profit in the burgeoning LED market. They’re “in a fierce patent arms race” that has them “bulking up their LED patent portfolios.”

Large companies have been acquiring patents from when LED tech was in its infancy and it was hard to find prior art that would doom a patent application. Today, with dollar signs dancing in their eyes, these firms could potentially buy or apply for patents in which the only difference is that the new product includes an LED instead of prior lighting tech.

Every dot of light

The motive is obvious, argues Matti. Think of the last time you were in a plane that did a nighttime descent. Think of all the lights you saw glowing in the city below. All will be replaced with LEDs. That’s how big the market is.

Matti writes that the lighting industry should avoid “mistakes that once made software patents a target of general contempt” (software makers spent billions acquiring patents to try to squelch innovative competition with threats of expensive lawsuits).

Choosing a shining path

The lighting industry shouldn’t go down that same murky path, seeking patent after patent for simply replacing old bulbs with LEDs in different devices. That isn’t innovation and it will undermine the credibility of both the patent holder and the patent system itself.

Move instead into the exciting future with an old-school belief: “true innovations deserve to be given all (the) value and opportunities for commercialization the IP system was originally built for.”