Who invented the LED?

22nd June 2013

UNAAV World Environment Day Award 2013 presented to Brightgreen

At Brightgreen, we love curious minds – the sort that always want to know the “why?” and “how?” behind the “what.” We also love stories of innovators who fight for their intellectual property in an effort to promote fair and honest business practice – it’s something we’re keen supporters of.

Lately, while reading up on the history of the LED, we rediscovered some interesting facts that lie behind the diode at the centre of our lighting technology and its creator, Shuji Nakamura.

Japanese researcher Shuji Nakamura is widely credited today as the inventor of the blue LED – which is the foundation for white light LEDs – but for a long time his invention wasn’t his own.

Nakamura devised the blue LED in 1993 while working for the Nichia Corporation, a Japanese engineering firm that is the world’s largest supplier of LEDs. He was initially rebuked by the company for spending too much time and money on an initiative that, in their eyes, was leading nowhere. Nakamura persisted in his own time, eventually developing a high-brightness gallium nitride LED that outperformed its predecessors.

At the time of his discovery, Nakamura is reported to have been awarded a prize of ¥20,000 (about $220 AUD) by Nichia, who incorporated his design into its own patenting.

In 2001, Nakamura won a landmark case against his previous employer. Tokyo’s District Court awarded the designer ¥20 billion (about $220 million AUD) in compensation for the disputed patent, but he was later denied the payment by a higher court. An out of court settlement was finally reached in 2005, when Nakamura accepted a sum of ¥840 million (about $9.3 million AUD).

Now a professor at the University of California's Solid State Lighting & Energy Centre, Nakamura continues to research and improve upon his invention, hoping to eventually design a zero-energy-loss LED – something else that Brightgreen can get behind.

For more information on LEDs and light, check out our newly updated Lighting Guide.