Dec. 1, 2008 -- One of the biggest complaints about the American economy is that there aren't enough manufacturing jobs anymore.
An American engineer said that he created a key technology behind the LCD flat-screen TV, but a Japanese company took his idea, possibly sending billions in profits and thousands of jobs overseas.
Dr. Kanti Jain, small business owner and award-winning engineering professor at the University of Illinois, has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against some of the biggest names in LCD flat-screen TVs, including Nikon, which makes the machines that manufacture flat panels to Sharp, Samsung, Panasonic and other LCD TV makers that use that technology.
"All this industry need not to have moved to East Asia," said Jain, who founded the Anvik Corporation, a small company outside New York City.
In 1990, Jain sent a letter with his patented technique to make bright, big flat panels cheaply to Nikon. He claims that, according to Nikon's internal documents, the unique production technique immediately caught the attention of the Japanese company.
"They didn't have a solution. It was only when Jain's patent was delivered to them that they realized this was a eureka moment," Jain's attorney, Chad Johnson from Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP, said.
Johnson said in depositions that Nikon officials conceded that they had no one working on this technology or any documents to prove the company knew about it before seeing Jain's patent.
"In my entire career as a patent attorney – and I've handled countless cases – I've never seen a more clear-cut case of patent infringement," Jain's co-counsel, Joshua Raskin from WolfBlock LLP, told ABC News.
Jain's patent is mentioned in Nikon's own patents issued years later, but today the company said including that was only a courtesy.
"It's your obligation to tell the Patent Office about other patents that have been filed. It doesn't mean they're valid. It doesn't mean they're infringed," Nikon attorney Jack Londen, from Morrison Foerster LLP, said.
Nikon acknowledged it had studied Jain's patent, but 17 years later the company challenged and won a preliminary ruling by the U.S. Patent Office that invalidated some of Jain's patent, claiming it was an old idea.
Nikon also said that even after seeing Jain's work, it took the company a decade to develop its own technique.
"You have to do 50 things to make an LCD panel that his machines can't do. Some of the things that he says in his patent that you should do are wrong. If you do those, you will not be able to make an LCD panel. We do it differently," Londen said.
Virtually no commercial flat screens are made in the United States, but Nikon said Jain's lawsuit is not about jobs but about Jain making money for himself.
That is not true, according to Jain. But until the court rules, Jain will have to be content with academic recognition, instead of the money and jobs he believes his idea should be bringing home.
"We are going to get what we deserve. I am not angry. I'm determined," Jain told ABC News.