Report: Toshiba faces claim from flash memory inventor

An ex-Toshiba researcher credited with inventing one of the most common types of electronic memory is asking the company for $US9 million in compensation related to that invention, according to a report in Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbun business newspaper.

Fujio Masuoka, who worked at Toshiba's research and development center from 1971 before joining Tohoku University in 1994, claims he did not receive appropriate compensation for the invention of flash memory, according to the report. The court document claims that Toshiba's cumulative profit to 2003 from the 21 patents associated with Masuoka is about $US180 million, the newspaper reported.

Masuoka, who still teaches at Tohoku University, could not be reached for comment.

Flash memory is widely used in many electronics and computer products because it has the ability to hold data when no power is being supplied. Products such as cellular telephones and almost all of the memory cards in use today in portable products are based on flash memory.

Toshiba declined comment, saying it has not yet seen the complaint.

According to media reports, it was filed on Tuesday at the Tokyo High Court.

The news comes shortly after three Japanese court cases resulted in awards of significant amounts to inventors.

In late January, the Tokyo District Court ordered Nichia Corp. to pay $US180 million in compensation to Shuji Nakamura for his invention of the blue LED (light emitting diode.) Nakamura, who is now a professor of engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, received $US180 for the invention at the time.

A day before the Nichia ruling, Hitachi Ltd. was ordered to pay $US1.48 million to a former researcher in connection with compensation for the development of technology related to optical discs. Last week, food company Ajinomoto was ordered to pay $US1.72 million to a former employee in compensation for the development of the Aspartame artificial sweetener.

Last week, Toshiba chairman, Taizo Nishimuro, took issue with the Nichia ruling.

"The decision of the judge from our viewpoint is outrageous," he said, speaking in his capacity as a vice-chairman of Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation). "It's true that the invention has great value but to make it possible is the effort of the corporation and other people working for the corporation. As far as product innovation is concerned, innovation cannot be created by one person."

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Martyn Williams

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