Rambus, long regarded as a non-practicing "patent troll," is now making LED lamps using patents it acquired.
"Patent troll" is the derogatory term for what is more formally called a non-practicing entity, or NPE -- a company that holds rights to one or more patents, but does not have any intention of making tangible products or services based on the patents. Instead, an NPE makes its money by forcing companies that are offering products and services to license the patents, under pain of getting sued for infringement. ("Patent troll" is a term sufficiently loaded that in 2008 a judge forbade the plaintiffs from using it in open court, for fear of prejudicing the jury, in a patent lawsuit brought by Rambus.)
NPEs often choose to bring suit in the Eastern District of Texas, where they have found judges and juries to be most sympathetic to their business methods, and most hostile to large defendant companies from outside of Texas (or outside the US). Some NPEs have gone so far as to open offices in Texas near the courtroom.
Under current patent law, NPEs are perfectly legal.
A couple of months ago we took a look across the intellectual property landscape in the SSL field. The picture is one of relative calm, with many of the big battles, and the cross-licensing settlements, in the past. But there is some evidence that NPEs are buying up SSL patents with an eye towards extracting revenue from companies that make LED-based products, by licensing or by lawsuit.
Change of direction
This story is a little different. It concerns a relatively new entrant to the SSL scene, Rambus, that arrived here by putting into practice some acquired patents, after a decade-long record as an aggressive NPE in other technology fields. Writing in HotHardware, John Hruska noted that Rambus has "a well-deserved reputation not as a patent troll, but as the patent troll" (emphasis in the original).
Rambus more or less had to find another way to make money after three of the patents it was counting on for revenue were ruled invalid in 2011 and 2012, as HotHardware reported at the time.
The shape of Rambus's entry into the LED lighting business began to emerge after it acquired a portfolio of patents from Global Lighting Technologies in 2009, some of them describing light-guide technologies. Cooper Lighting and GE Lighting licensed those patents for use in planar LED lighting products.
Meanwhile, Rambus was figuring out how to use the light-guide technology on its own in the consumer incandescent replacement market. The company showed a prototype LED A19 replacement lamp at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but said at the time it would look to partners to distribute it. At this point the company's consumer offerings span the popular bulb types: A19, BR30, and PAR30. (ExtremeTech reports that Rambus has not announced prices for these lamps.) And the company made waves in June when it announced technology for manually adjusting the color temperature of the BR30 and PAR30 lamps, by means of a rotating ring and remote phosphors.
It is too early to say whether or not Rambus will be a significant player in LED lighting. But I for one am encouraged to see the company reach to make use of its intellectual property in a way that benefits the SSL market as a whole, not simply to milk the IP for quick profits.
— Keith Dawson , Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting