No backdown from CSIRO over Wi-Fi patents

Summary:Australian government research body CSIRO is standing firm on its claims to Wi-Fi patents and refusing to offer any guarantee it won't sue manufacturers of next generation wireless products.

Australian government research body CSIRO is standing firm on its claims to Wi-Fi patents and refusing to offer any guarantee it won't sue manufacturers of next generation wireless products.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) was granted US patents in 1996 that acknowledge its efforts in the initial development of wireless technologies.

CSIRO has already successfully used these patents to sue one wireless product manufacturer, Buffalo Technology, for refusing to honour the patent by paying licensing fees.

Last week the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) wrote to CSIRO requesting that the research body provide manufacturers with a letter of assurance that it will not sue them over the release of their next generationWi-Fi products, based on the draft 802.11n standard.

In a response filed with the IEEE late last week, CSIRO vice president of licensing Denis Redfern provided no such assurance.

Redfern said the research body is "happy to confirm that CSIRO continues to be willing to license these patents on a worldwide basis to manufacturers of notebook computers, access points and other wireless enabled products that would otherwise infringe the patents".

Redfern added such licensing deals have "proved not to be possible" to date, as licensing offers CSIRO has made to manufacturers have been rejected.

CSIRO is being sued by industry giants Intel and Dell, as well as Microsoft, HP and Netgear in an industry-wide effort to have CSIRO's patents overturned.

In September 2006, CSIRO counter-sued the companies for patent infringement.

"In an apparent response to CSIRO's earlier offers to license, there are now pending lawsuits filed against CSIRO by six industry members," Redfern said.

"CSIRO is also engaged in litigation in relation to infringement of the '069 patent with nine additional industry members who have so far failed to respect CSIRO's intellectual property rights," Redfern said.

"As these matters are before the court ... there appears to be little more that can be said at present."

Uncertainty over CSIRO's patents has seen the industry make slow progress toward finalising and ratifying the 802.11n wireless standard, which would connect wireless devices within aWLAN at three times the current speeds of wireless products.

The 802.11n standard has been in development since 2004 -- and remains in draft form.

Some industry pundits have also suggested that CSIRO's successful suit against Buffalo Technology may result in higher prices for wireless products in the future.

Timeline

  • November 1993: CSIRO lodges US patent for the invention of a wireless LAN.
  • January 1996: US patent 5,487,069 is issued to CSIRO.
  • 1997: CSIRO and Macquarie University form Radiata, a company established for the purposes of commercialising the patent.
  • 2001: Cisco Systems acquires Radiata for US$295 million.
  • 2003: CSIRO engages in patent licensing discussions with several manufacturers, none of which agree to pay licensing fees.
  • February 2005: CSIRO lodges a suit against Buffalo Technology for alleged patent violation in the Eastern District of Texas Court as a test case for its patent.
  • May 2005: Two groups of industry heavyweights -- including Dell and Intel, and Microsoft, HP and Netgear, lodge lawsuits against CSIRO seeking to overturn its patent.
  • November 2006: CSIRO has its patent upheld by the Eastern District of Texas Court in its case against Buffalo Technology.
  • September 2006: CSIRO counter-sues the industry parties attempting to overturn its patent, claiming these companies infringe on its patents.
  • September 2007: CSIRO refuses to offer any amnesty to IEEE members that infringe on its patent.

Topics: Cisco, Emerging Tech, Legal, Networking, Wi-Fi

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