CSIRO could scoop billions from Wi-Fi patent

It’s been described as a battle between a down-under David and an army of global Goliaths and this week history repeated itself with a high-tech twist.

A long-running legal stoush between the CSIRO and many of the IT world’s most powerful companies has been settled in favour of the Australian scientific research body.

At issue was a patent for the wireless LAN technology which is today used in almost every home office notebook and smartphone. The spoils if taken as ongoing royalties rather than an up-front settlement are said to be worth billions of dollars – money which the CSIRO says it will invest in ongoing research.

The CSIRO applied for the patent – which describes “a wireless LAN a peer-to-peer wireless LAN a wireless transceiver and a method of transmitting data” – in November 1993 with the patent approved in January 1996.

Wireless networking was still in its infancy but a decade after the original filing date Intel launched its Centrino notebook platform and drive Wi-Fi into the mainstream.

Apple’s Airport base station and the inclusion of Wi-Fi in its notebooks and later desktops also played a part in cementing the future of wireless networking based on the 802.11 standard – and both companies were later involved in subsequent action to have the CSIRO patent invalidated.

The CSIRO has previously won separate judgements against HP and wireless networking vendor Buffalo Technologies which led the organisation to continue fighting for what it saw as just compensation.

Now the last of the 14 companies involved in the court action has opted to settle although the terms of the settlements are confidential.

The companies expected to contribute to this year’s CSIRO Christmas Party Fund include 3Com Asus Belkin D-Link Dell Intel Microsoft Netgear Nintendo SMC and Toshiba.