Thursday, 23 April 2009 18:33

CSIRO chickens finally home to roost with $1 billion eggs

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Australia's CSIRO built the world's fourth computer CSIRAC in 1949 and, until this month when it forced 14 global tech giants to kneel and pay homage for the use of its WiFi technology, its knowledge and expertise have gone largely unheralded. That is no longer the case and a billion dollar - maybe multi-billion dollar pay day is around the corner.

There is a story that has almost entered the realm of urban legends that CSIRO was deemed to have squandered its computing technology advantage by turning its attention to other areas such as cloud seeding in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Whatever the truth, however, it is doubtful that the tiny remote Australia back in those days could ever have become an early IT hub. The markets didn't exist and they were too distant in the pre-jetliner era anyway.

However, one thing Australia has always been good at, thanks to organisations such as CSIRO, is research. And that was amply demonstrated when US patent number 5,487,069 Wireless LAN was filed by CSIRO on November 23 1993.

The patent was so strong and the evidence so compelling that CSIRO was the world leader in wireless networking technology through its fundamental research at the time that it was able to withstand the combined efforts of many of the world's largest tech giants to knock it down.

To put this win in its perspective, the 802.11 WiFi standard is now deemed to be based on the CSIRO patent. That means hundreds of millions of wireless networking routers and cards in stores and in use in computers around the world are using technology based on the CSIRO patent.

The CSIRO is owed royalties on sales dating back the early days of wireless networking nearly a decade ago. Reports vary on how much that means will flow into Australia each year through the CSIRO.

The CSIRO could reap $1 billion over the next 10 years or it could be many billions. Whatever the amount, it will not cover the more than $20 billion annual technology deficit Australia faces each year. For that we need something more than research.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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