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Monday, 13 April 2009 15:17

Fujitsu settles with CSIRO over WLAN patent

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Fujitsu has followed HP in reaching settlement with the CSIRO over its long running battle to extract licence fees for a key patent it holds covering the 802.11 WiFi wireless technology.

According to US legal newsletter, Law360, Judge Leonard Davis of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas has dismissed with prejudice the claims and counterclaims between CSIRO and Fujitsu.

Law360 notes that this represents the first court-approved settlement to emerge since the CSIRO filed suit against a number of major IT companies in 2006. However last month another of those companies, HP  reached an out of court settlement with the CSIRO last month , and Apple dropped out in December 2006.

Law360 added that terms of the settlement were confidential, but said that each party had agreed to bear their own costs incurred in more than two years of litigation.

Fujitsu's exit leaves the CSIRO still suing Toshiba, Nintendo, ASUS Computer, D-Link, Belkin, Accton Technology, SMC Networks and 3Com. Separately it is fighting Intel, Microsoft, Netgear and Marvell Semiconductor which initiated legal action to try and have the patent declared invalid. In this quest they may find support, of all places, in a document produced by the Australian Government.

The patent in question, US patent number 5,487,069 Wireless LAN was filed on November 23 1993 and issued on January 23 1996. It was assigned to the CSIRO by its five Australian inventors, named in the patent: John O'Sullivan, Graham Daniels, Terry Percival, Diethelm Ostry and John Deane. The patent had it origins in research undertaken at Macquarie University with CSIRO funding which was commercialised by Radiata. That company was later sold to Cisco Systems which subsequently abandoned all work on WiFi chipsets.

The patent's role in 802.11a was closely examined, and its importance questioned, in a case study on Radiata   prepared for the then Department of Education, Science and Training in November 2003.

Its authors noted that "Opinion differs on the ways in which the existence of CSIRO's wireless LAN patent influenced the subsequently agreed 802.11a standard." They quoted a recollection by Radiata co-founder David Skellern on the evolution of the 802.11a standard, and say that, if his recollection is correct, "CSIRO's wireless LAN patent did influence the new standard, but in the diffuse and hard to trace manner that is a characteristic of public good research...It is worth noting that other well-informed individuals support the view that there is only an indirect connection between CSIRO's wireless LAN patent and the subsequent 802.11a standard."

They concluded that: "In this view, the patent is based on finding a non-trivial practical solution to wireless LANs based upon parameters set by the laws of physics over radio-wave propagation in this frequency range. Similarly, IEEE 802.11a is also based upon these immutable physical laws. Consequently, the design of IEEE 802.11a is likely to have ended up as it did without CSIRO's patent simply because this is a logical solution."

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