Tech giants surrender to Oz Wi-Fi boffins
'Prior art' my Kookaburra
Some of the world's top tech companies have run up the white flag in the face of a national science agency’s legal claim it invented key technologies behind Wi-Fi.
Each of the 14 companies the agency sued for copyright infringement in 2005 has cut confidential settlements with the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), it revealed today. They are Hewlett-Packard, Asus, Intel, Dell, Toshiba, Netgear, D-Link, Belkin, SMC, Accton, 3Com, Buffalo Technologies, Microsoft and Nintendo.
CSIRO claims to hold an essential patent granted in 1996 for 802.11a and 802.11g Wi-Fi technology, the adopted standard in almost every modern laptop and LAN device.
The agency alleged it had offered the companies licensing deals on "reasonable and non-discriminatory" terms at first, but was dismissed by most of the industry. CSIRO lawyers then vowed to sue any company using the 802.11 standard and refusing to pay up.
The opposition, which gained backing by the likes of Yahoo!, Apple, Nvidia, and the Consumer Electronics Association, argued CSIRO's patent was invalid due to the existence of prior art that made the patent claims "obvious" at the time it was filed.
Although CSIRO won a temporary US import ban against Japanese-owned Buffalo Technologies in June 2007, the ban was lifted while the case was sent to appeals court purgatory.
The first sign the the 14 companies would crack came early this month, when HP announced it had separately settled with the Australian agency.
The actual windfall CSIRO gained from the multiple settlements is unknown. CSIRO reportedly was never asking for much in licensing fees - but considering the breadth of the technology, it's likely to mean beaucoup bucks for the Australian agency.
CSIRO typically reinvests the proceeds it makes from research, so maybe it'll be power-generating jackets all around for Aussies.
It's also a result that should get any company using Wi-Fi products that hasn't been served by CSIRO very, very nervous. ®
This isn't the only case of Aussies beating the big guys
Microsoft has been ordered to pay Intertrust $440 Million for stealing the IP of an Australian inventor. Although the articlee linked above doesn't go into the background the idea for DRM technologies that could be used to stop unauhorised software copying was offered to Microsoft way back in the '90s. After poking about inside it for a while Microsoft said "Neat idea but no thanks" and immediately went off to do a "Stacker job" on it.
In the meantime, the inventor showed it to Intertrust who went ahead and purchased it only to find later on that Microsoft had used that very same tech to produce WGA.
3 years and millions of $ in lawyers fees later MS have been told to pay up to the tune of $440 USD.
I'm not sure why this hasn't been covered on El Reg though. Seems just the thing to start the comments section flamwares going.
something like this would only affect people manufacturing 802.11 chips and distributing them, not the people who then go on to use those chips.
How did a proprietary technology become standard
The catch here is that it's not 802.11g, it's IEEE 802.11g. In general, IEEE tries to avoid making any proprietary technology part of a standard because it then compels users to pay licensing fees. It also requires members of standards committees to disclose relationships with vendors or informantion on known proprietary technology. IEEE reacts strongly when it discovers companies trying to manipulate the standards process to incorporate their proprietary technology and has dissolved standards committees corrupted by that process. The question is then how did this CSIRO proprietary technology become part of the standard? Did the committee not know it was proprietary, or did they assume it was obvious and therefore not patentable, or did they know it and decide it was os essential that it was necessary anyway or what?
This may be good for CSIRO; it's not good news for standards in that it likely to make more companies leary of adopting standards that might contain hidden licensing requirements. As such, it is bad news for everybody.