IT giants fight wireless patent

Microsoft, Dell, HP, Intel, Apple and Netgear look set for battle over a wireless patent

Some of the world's largest IT firms are on a collision course with the Australian government's scientific research arm over a patent for wireless local area networks.

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) was awarded the patent in 1996, which it claims relates to technologies used in several of IEEE wireless standards.

In an announcement on Wednesday, CSIRO said that Microsoft, Dell, HP, Intel, Apple and Netgear had initiated legal action to try and get this patent overturned. CSIRO vowed to fight this action, and claimed that the technology covered by its patent is "now a standard feature of most notebook computers and many other devices".

"As part of our business we create high quality intellectual property, and we are prepared to defend it," said Dr Geoff Garrett, chief executive of CSIRO.

"We actively encourage the utilisation of the results of research in industry and communities, both nationally and globally, and any royalty income will be reinvested in further research."

CSIRO was not immediately available for comment, but in a speech late last year Dr Alex Zelinsky said that the organisation was committed to reaping the commercial benefits of its work in the wireless space.

"Back in 1989 a small group of guys started work on wireless LANs, at a time when most people would have been happy just to get their computers hooked up to a printer over a network," he said. "Shortly after that, CSIRO lodged some basic patents in that area and then an offer came to start a company, which CSIRO chose not to participate in but did license its technology. CSIRO missed out on that opportunity and things went on. Interestingly, the basic patent stayed with CSIRO and is now negotiating with a number of vendors to enforce that patent — a very valuable piece of intellectual property."