Physicist Paid Only $200 for His Nobel-Winning Invention
Company that Shuji Nakamura worked for also sued him for trade infringement
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2014 2:04 PM CDT
Scientist Shuji Nakamura, a Japanese-born American professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, talks to a reporter before a news conference on Oct. 7, 2014.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

(Newser) – Shuji Nakamura's world got a little bit brighter yesterday morning when he found out he'd won the Nobel Prize in physics, along with Japan's Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano. But even though McKinsey guesses that Nakamura's invention—blue light-emitting-diodes, or LEDs—will be worth about $80 billion by the year 2020, the Japanese company Nakamura toiled for 21 years ago paid him a mere $200 for his troubles, because in Japan, custom held that "the employer was a substitute for family, and that work was an end in itself, not a means to enrichment or personal glory," Quartz reports.

Nakamura left Nichia Corporation, moved to the US, and became a citizen, with Nichia hot on his trail to sue him for stealing tricks of the trade. He countersued, and the two parties settled in 2005, with Nakamura finally reaping what was then worth $8.1 million, the New York Times reported at the time, calling the blue LED "the Holy Grail of lighting." Nakamura told the Times that his win "changed the system in all companies in Japan in which scientists and engineers were poorly treated," and the paper noted that other inventors had followed suit. (This columnist thinks the Nobel Peace Prize should go to no one when it's awarded on Friday.)