Blue Lasers in Peril?

Light behaves like waves (sometimes). Longer wavelengths produce light toward the red end of the spectrum. Shorter wave lengths make light toward the other end, with colors like blue or violet.

This bit of optical trivia may not seem important, but it’s an essential fact in the creation of high-definition DVD discs and players, such as Blu-ray. Standard DVDs and audio CDs use lasers that produce red light. This light is used to bounce off microscopic pits inside the disc. In order to fit high definition content on a disc of the same size, however, the little pits have to be much, much smaller. In fact, they are so small that the waves of red light are too large to accurately read them. The “Blu” in Blu-ray refers to the fact that it relies on blue laser light, which has sufficiently short waves to read the tiny pits that contain the data.

And now companies that use blue lasers may have a major problem on their hands. You’ve probably never heard of Gertrude Neumark Rothschild , but you can be certain that folks at Sony, Motorola, Nokia, Pioneer, Samsung, Sharp, and Toshiba — among others — know her name now. She is an accomplished scientist with many patents and other achievements to her credit, including a 1993 patent for creating LEDs and lasers at the blue/violet end of the spectrum.

And now she’s asserting her rights under that patent. She has already reached settlements with Osram and Philips Lumileds, but has now asked the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to block the import of any products that are in violation of her patent. The ITC has agreed to investigate her complaint, and has already identified 30 companies around the world that are respondents in this investigation.

If the ITC upholds the complaint and blocks the import of any product that uses a blue LED or blue laser and does not have a licensing agreement for Rothschild’s patent, then this will put considerable pressure on some major companies to settle on terms. According to an ITC press release, the agency intends to settle the investigation “at the earliest practicable time“. That would appear to be sometime in the next few months. Stay tuned….