Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has picked up $229-million from technology companies for their Wi-Fi patent. This time around, CSIRO hit up Lenovo, Acer, Sony, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. These companies settled with CSIRO rather than face off in the infamously pro-patent Eastern District Court of Texas, United States.
This isn't the first time CSIRO has cashed in big with its overly-broad patent. The research arm of the Australian government hit up 14 companies in 2009, including HP, Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Netgear, Toshiba, 3Com, Nintendo, D-Link, and Buffalo Technologies, for over $200-million.
The CSIRO's patent name alone, Wireless LAN , gives you an idea of just how broad it is. The patent, which was approved in January 1996 doesn't expire until November 2013.
Specifically CSIRO claims that its patent covers a core method for transmitting wireless signals via orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) modulation. This breaks signals into different parts to transmit data simultaneously over different frequencies to maximize performance. It is used in the major IEEE Wi-Fi standards including 802.11a, 802.11g and 802.11n.
Some people see CSIRO being one of “the good guys” patent lawsuits and all. Leaving aside the software patent issue, most of them don't know that CSIRO has refused to sign a Letter of Acceptance (LoA) that would free companies from patent attacks for using the IEEE Wi-Fi standards. This was one of the direct causes for the long delays in making 802.11n a standard.
An IEEE LoA (PDF Link) is an essential part of creating a standard. Without all the needed LoAs anyone who uses a standard may be targetted, as in this case, to lawsuits (PDF Link). This, in turn, makes the standard less attractive to vendors and customers.
So, while I'm sure CSIRO does good work, never forget that they're paying for some of that work by being a patent troll and at the expense of everyone who relies on technology standards.