Court Rules Australian Agency Has a Patent on Wi-Fi

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A court in Texas ruled yesterday that Australia’s national science agency has a patent on some of the core technologies used in some versions of Wi-Fi. This means a hundred or so companies that make products that include this wireless networking technology now face the possibility of patent infringement lawsuits.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) was granted its patent in 1996. It sued Buffalo Technology last year claiming patent infringement, and a judge in Austin, TX made a summary judgment on Friday in favor of CSIRO. The court will announce later how much Buffalo owes, and this company is expected to appeal.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr. Geoff Garrett said, "We are obviously very pleased. However, it is only a brick in the wall – CSIRO still has a long way to go."

Only the Beginning

CSIRO isn’t trying to stop companies from making Wi-Fi equipment; it just wants them to pay it a licensing fee. It had been trying unsuccessfully for several years to convince companies to do just that before filing its test patent-infringement lawsuit against Buffalo Technology.

If it can will its upcoming court battles, CSIRO stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

However, while it will affect some handheld and smartphone makers, at this point most of them aren’t in CSIRO’s sights, because its patent involves only 802.11a/g. It doesn’t have any rights to the technology involved in 802.11b, the version most widely used in small handheld devices.

A Pre-emptive Strike

This isn’t the only court case related to this patent. In 2005, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Dell, and Netgear asked a federal court in San Francisco to declare CSIRO’s patent invalid, but the judge in that case decided to wait until the suit in Texas was resolved before making a ruling. CSIRO is attempting to have this case moved to the same court in Texas that made yesterday’s ruling.

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