Courtesy of Neil Brake, Vanderbilt University
 MARK III TANGO: Duke is dancing in court with former professor to control use of a free-electron laser like this one at Vanderbilt University.

John M.J. Madey, long known as the father of the free-electron laser, has made his career in academic research, not business or law. So Madey did not craft the legal weapon that may close the patent law loophole allowing academic researchers to use patented technology without risking infringement suits; it's a casualty of his attempt to assert rights over equipment he designed.

The scientist sued Duke University, alleging that the institution infringed his patents in connection with the Mark III free-electron laser (FEL). To defend the claim, Duke attempted to invoke the "experimental use" exception in patent law, which sometimes allows academic scientists to use new technologies without paying license fees. A federal appellate court took a dim view of...

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