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Oz boffins to milk 'other half' of WiFi

Aussie lawyers eyeball Apple, RIM

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Having put the squeeze on tech heavyweights like Intel, Dell, and Microsoft in defense of its ubiquitous WiFi patent, Australia's national science agency is preparing to wring out the rest of the electronics industry for royalties.

The Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) says it's only midway through demanding just desserts from companies allegedly aping its key wireless technology for a decade while refusing to pay licensing fees.

"We have licensed half the industry and now we're engaged in negotiations with the other half of the industry," CSIRO spokesman Tom McGuiness told The Australian today.

Likely targets include smartphone manufacturers using Wi-Fi connections in their handsets, with companies like Apple and RIM affixed with the biggest targets to their chests.

Back in April, CSIRO announced it had settled with 14 companies the agency sued for patent infringement in 2005. And these weren't backwater agencies. They were Hewlett-Packard, Asus, Intel, Dell, Toshiba, Netgear, D-Link, Belkin, SMC, Accton, 3Com, Buffalo Technologies, Microsoft, and Nintendo.

CSIRO claims to hold an essential US patent granted in 1996 for 802.11a and 802.11g WiFi technology, the adopted standard in almost every modern laptop and LAN device.

When the American Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) originally adopted the standards which incorporated the patented technology, CSIRSO said it was on the basis there would be a licensing arrangement for companies who used it. But as the Australian agency began offering "reasonable and non-discriminatory terms" when suppliers started marketing devices using the agency's Wi-Fi technology, CSIRO claims it was dismissed by the agency.

Thus began a drawn-out and far more discriminatory campaign against hardware punters through the American court system, beginning with Buffalo as a test case for its patent.

Two groups of industry heavyweights, including Intel, Microsoft, and HP returned fire with lawsuits against CSIRO claiming the patent is invalid because of the existence of prior art that made the patent claim "obvious" at the time it was filed.

By April 2009, HP bailed out of the claim and paid CSIRO an undisclosed amount of money to settle. The other 13 weren't far behind. CSIRO won't say how much money it made on the deals, but the pay-off has been speculated to be around $1bn.

And what's twice as good as $1bn? $2bn, naturally. With some major wins in CSIRO's favor, the "other half" of the industry is likely be much more willing to answer the agency's calls. ®

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