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U.S. Firms Take on Australia's CSIRO Over Patents 426

Posted by timothy
from the hey-we-want-those dept.
dingram17 writes "ABC News is reporting that six U.S. computer companies (Apple, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Microsoft and Netgear) are taking legal action to try to break a U.S. patent that the CSIRO holds on wireless networking. The CSIRO has patents on OFDM technology, as used in 802.11a and 802.11g. It has been alleged that the CSIRO demands $4 per chipset for the use of this technology. It appears that the patent in question is U.S. Patent 5,487,069 'Wireless LAN.' From a quick look, this appears to be a wide ranging patent."
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U.S. Firms Take on Australia's CSIRO Over Patents

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  • Wow.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_macman (874383) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @12:53AM (#12563566)
    Simply stunning. So a company actually holds a legal patent to a technology they invented and since the big boys (Dell, Apple, etc) don't want to pay the royalties they try to legally "break" the patent. Does anyone else see something wrong with this? I hardly see these companies as the victim.
  • Hypocrites (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @12:54AM (#12563572)
    It seems that they can't handle what they dish out.
  • Go aussie go.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @12:55AM (#12563579)
    I hope the CSIRO wins considereing the way we get stuffed over by US companies out here.
  • Patents (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @12:55AM (#12563584)
    Remember, people: Patents are only good when they put money in YOUR pocket.
  • by Sensible Clod (771142) <[ten.retrahc] [ta] [7-cd]> on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @12:55AM (#12563585) Homepage
    After all the patents U.S. companies have been taking out for this exact purpose, I say, let the Aussies bash 'em once!

    At any rate, I've given up hope that the patent system will actually be fixed...
  • by AdamTheBastard (532937) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @12:56AM (#12563597)
    Why won't these companies make up their minds? Do they like protecting IP with patents or not? It looks as though the only important IP is their IP.

    Microsoft has been using patents for years to squash oposition, now they are sick and tired of $4 per chip? That must be breaking their bank!
  • Awesome (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @12:57AM (#12563600)
    I hope the CSIRO gets to keep the patent and the others keep paying the $4 fee. the patent system is Pathetic and stupid and Im sure this is a pain for the big guys, but while they use their patents in the same way.. then who cares...

  • by uq1 (59540) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @12:58AM (#12563613)
    From a previous slashdot article, http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/05/14/07 2201&tid=109&tid=141&tid=155&tid=1 [slashdot.org]

    How hypocritical are Microsoft appearing?

    On one hand they're trying to teach kids flawed views on intellectual property to ensure that future generations won't pirate as much, and on the other hand they're doing exactly what they're trying to prevent, the theft of intellectual property.

    Such sad, sad, little people.
  • by Kris_J (10111) * on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:04AM (#12563641) Journal
    The Australian government, my government, needs to get a clue about the behaviour of the US and US corporations. This is exactly the sort of crap it signed on for when it forced through the "Free Trade" agreement. Frankly, I think we should cut off all formal ties and agreements with the US and have a real free trade environment. At the very least, Australia needs to recognise that the US patent system is irretreavably corrupt and should not be honoured in Australia.

    If the US would then similarly like to not honour Australian patents, they're welcome -- given that's what they appear to want anyway.

  • Re:hypocrisy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:05AM (#12563647)
    He who lives by the patent.....
  • Re:Wow.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cHiphead (17854) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:06AM (#12563651)
    A government entity should never be allowed to patent its own tech, that tech was paid for by the people and should be available freely to all in every scenario I can possibly think of.
  • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:06AM (#12563655)
    ...although the companies in question certainly won't die if they have to pay royalties here.

    If the companies in question want to reap the benefits of the patent system, they have to pay the price of the patent system. But since most three-year-old children show greater maturity than most of these corporations, it's no surprise that these corporations want to reap the benefits without paying the price.

    They're just lucky that the organization in question (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, a research arm of the Australian government) isn't a competitor. Although I suppose in this case it could use this patent to give Australian companies an advantage over their American competition.

    It's about damned time the U.S. corporations got a black eye from the bullshit patent situation over here. After all, they're the ones who have been abusing it. I just wish it happened far more often.

  • by Thornkin (93548) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:11AM (#12563689) Homepage
    I love the way these companies continue to file for thousands of patents themselves but when a competitor's patent gets in the way, they want to squash it. I'm all for them squashing patents. The more the merrier as far as I'm concerned. I haven't seen a software/algorithm patents that helped foster competition or reduce prices for the consumer. Part of me hopes that patent issues for the big companies will help them realize that the patent system is in need of massive reform. Right after that my realist side recognizes that the big companies will just play the system like they always do. Sigh.

  • Re:Wow.... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:19AM (#12563720)
    It seems to me that the best way for a government entity to return value to the people is by licensing the technology and reinvesting the proceeds in further research. Especially when the the entity is in Australia, receives bugger all funding compared to US institutions (eg DARPA etc), and Australian companies have far less chance of profiting from the technology than overseas tech-corporations with the existing infrastructure to make use of it.
  • by Slotty (562298) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:20AM (#12563723)
    The CSIRO has their research labs in the side of a mountain. You have to cross a gaping chasm by a bridge to get to it.
    Any government funded organization that is built in to a mountain protected by a gaping chasm is not going to worry to much about anything.

    Our scientists thought it up we should keep the $4 per chip not like they can't charge an extra $4 for a notebook computer

  • Good!... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dr_Marvin_Monroe (550052) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:20AM (#12563726)
    Let me first say that I strongly dislike what's going on with patents now, software and otherwise.

    I like that inventors get a chance to make a buck off their inventions, that's the productive and creative part that congress orig. talked about when they granted patents.

    I'm strongly displeased at the use/mis-use of patents today. They're used as stragic weapons against competetors. They're used to block new technology. They're used to destroy governments and individual rights (think Africa and South America with AIDS drugs). The current patent crap (for instance, patenting of genetic material found in natural foods and herbs) is simply a means to give multinational corps. final fascist control over the world economy. All work will have to be for them, because you'll need their protection and cross-licensing to do anything. You will not be able to wipe your ass with leaves grown in your own back yard if Bayer finds some "cooling gell" in that species that they want to patent. Software patents are making it illegal to work or create for yourself, as without the protection of MS/HP/DELL, your thoughts will have been patented by someone else and you will be breaking the law by using a wheel of your own creation (even if you didn't copy anything).

    But in this case, I'll settle for "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." MS/HP/DELL/Netgear/etc. want it their way when it helps them and call for invalidation/threats/whatever/manuvering/spin when they have to pay.... Time for you suckers to pay....I hope they ream you raw too, as I'll happily know that you are eating part of that $4 just to keep the sales numbers up. Better yet, I'd love to see you buy 10M of those chips, only to have them sitting in your fab plants because nobody wants to buy your product at the inflated price.

    If they want real reform, they should help to change patent law away from the mess it's in now, otherwise these industry blow-hards should just shut up and keep paying! You know, you can't win all the time..

    They don't really want reform though, they simply want control and they're mad at the fact that they DON'T have the patent. They'd do just the same thing roles reversed.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:30AM (#12563771)
    Listen, in the unlikely event that Australia ever gave birth to a multi-national IT company that was worth a damn and large enough for anybody to care about, you can bet they'd be right in line with Apple and the other US IT companies to break this patent.

    There is nothing inherently virtuous about Australian companies, there is nothing inherently evil about US companies. Large companies that have the resources to impose their wishes on others will attempt to do so when it suits their needs. This is true whether the company is US, British, German, Japanese or yes, even Australian. This has been true since the beginning of commerce, it will be true until the end.

  • Re:Wow.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by natmsincome.com (528791) <adinobro@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:31AM (#12563775) Homepage
    The interesting thing in this case is that it wasn't paid for by "THE PEOPLE" it was paid for by another country.

    If by patenting it they can allocate more grant money in "THEIR" own country instead of the country were the patent was registered it will be better for "THEIR PEOPLE".

    I guest it all depend of weither you talk about poeple in the global state (in which case this is bad but people in america lose jobs to people in India is good because it raises the average standard of living globaly) or in the regional state (then losing jobs to another country is bad but this is good)

    Also how about another scenario, by patenting technology governments can increase the amount of money they can give out from Grants without increasing taxes. This would result in more technology (Grants generally focus on long term research whereas companys generally forcus on ROI - short term) with less of a burden on the general population and would only affect people who used the new technology.
  • Re:hypocrisy (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:32AM (#12563778)
    So true. Just what did people expect? You can't run around saying "oooh! big companies are evil and abuse the patent system!" every damn day then act all shocked when big companies do exactly what you've been screaming about.
  • by anti-NAT (709310) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:40AM (#12563804) Homepage

    CSIRO is a not-for-profit Australian Government organisation. Do all these companies really want to screw around with what is likely to be their biggest customer in Australia ?

    Invalidate the patent by all means if it shouldn't have been granted. However, if it is legitimate, then just pay the licensing fees.

    Remember, a patent is a government granted monopoly for a time period to allow the patent holder to both recoup their costs and to make a profit out of inventing the idea that has been patented. If these companies don't like that, then they should have all their patents revoked immediately, or they should sue the US government for incopetence because the US government granted the patent in the first place.

  • Re:hypocrisy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MasterOfUniverse (812371) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:41AM (#12563805)
    What you call hypocritical, I call totally expected behavior.

    Right. And both are not mutually exclusive.

  • Re:Wow.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kavau (554682) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @01:45AM (#12563820) Homepage
    A government entity should never be allowed to patent its own tech, that tech was paid for by the people and should be available freely to all in every scenario I can possibly think of.

    In this case, the research was paid for by Australian taxpayers. So why should American companies be able to freeload on the technology?

  • by Chuck Chunder (21021) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @02:04AM (#12563897) Homepage Journal
    Is that to some extent CSIRO seem to be using the patent system for what it was designed for. They have 'invented' something and are now trying to licence it to make money directly from that invention.

    To me this seems purer than a company patenting something and then using that patent as a means to create an artificial monopoly and lock out competitors.

    $4 does sound like quite a lot per unit but I wonder if they can do that because they are only on one end of the patent equation.

    I'm sure MS, IBM etc would like to charge obscene amounts for a patent they own too but as they are on both the selling and buying end of such deals they maybe cautious about inflating the accepted price of patent licencing?
  • Re:Wow.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrackedButter (646746) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @02:47AM (#12564030) Homepage Journal
    Americans didn't invent rocket propulsion, the English did. Americans didn't invent the jet engine, the Germans did. Americans didn't invent the computer, the English did. Americans didn't invent the war, the Germans did. Americans didn't invent the freedom, the French did.
    So what was this major thing they invented? (btw, I am sure you meant last century)
  • Re:Wow.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by novakreo (598689) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @02:55AM (#12564051) Homepage

    I feel obligated to point out that if the government didn't get involved at all it would save even more money in taxes

    Yeah, but how much research do you think would get done? Remember, it's not just dedicated scientific organizations like CSIRO that get funding, it's also several public universities doing research too. (chances are private unis are also getting public funds, but I'm not actually sure)

  • Re:Wow.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by evil9000 (72113) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @02:56AM (#12564058) Homepage
    Hmm... the counter argument is great.

    Too bad the past and current management of CSIRO are ethical people with a history of being outstanding innovaters and inventers of technology.

    Interesting how the people suing them usually hide behind a fuzzy dollars scheme of inventing new technologies based on passing marketing dollars to each other and calling that research funds. Like when BillG promised through his foundation $80 million for aids research, but in real life it was $80 over 1000 years or something as silly as that...
  • Re:Wow.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shitdrummer (523404) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @03:05AM (#12564087)
    I feel obligated to point out that if the government didn't get involved at all it would save even more money in taxes

    Then all the IP would be owned by large multi-national corporations that would take the profits out of Australia and their R&D dollars as well.

    How many multi-nationals do you think would give a shit about Australia's unique problems, such as the Cane Toad? http://www.csiro.au/index.asp?type=faq&id=CaneToad Control [csiro.au]

    Shitdrummer
  • by r6144 (544027) <<r6k> <at> <sohu.com>> on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @03:10AM (#12564109) Homepage Journal
    I don't know why so many people here, quite a lot of which seem to be anti-patent in general, became pro-patent in this case (unless they are Australians, in which case I can understand). In my opinion, no single entity should be able to monopolize on an idea, whether it is a country or a company (the net effect is the same to us outsiders). Besides, I have read the patent in question, and the ideas there such as OFDM and FEC, etc. are actually not all that ingenious. Have a deep understand of real-world channel characteristics and you can also have similar ideas --- the problem is that there is hardly anyone in this field who has not heard about OFDM any more, so no one can demonstrate that to the patent office, even though I'm pretty sure that many of them are perfectly capable of coming up with that idea when it becomes useful.

    If patents have some uses it should be used to prevent wholesale copying of complete designs, which is as impossible to accidentally reinvent as it is to write a novel only to find that someone has already written essentially the same thing. The broad patents are better struck down, and I oppose anyone who wants to use them offensively, whether it is big-company-to-small-company, small-company-to-big-company, or government-entity-to-big-company.

  • Re:Wow.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mjsottile77 (867906) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @03:25AM (#12564142)
    I (as an American) don't see the problem with this. If I pay taxes, and they get invested in research, I'd be quite happy if the proceeds of that research get reinvested BACK into research to either augment the amount I pay, or reduce the amount of burden on me as a taxpayer. I don't care if it's not America that is the one profiting -- why should we always feel we should be top dog? If Australia paid for and has the patent rights to it, then good for them - and if they reinvest it into research, then maybe we'll see something else good pop out of the labs down under.
  • by name*censored* (884880) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @03:37AM (#12564177)
    No, australia has a military, its just in another country fighting a war the USA started....
  • Re:Wow.... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @03:39AM (#12564191)
    A government entity should never be allowed to patent its own tech, that tech was paid for by the people and should be available freely to all in every scenario I can possibly think of.

    As others have now pointed out, the Government in question is the Australian Government, therefore it was the Australian Tax payers money! And as the story heading states, it is American companies that do NOT want to pay!

    So, in other words, they want Australian's to pay for the R&D and then use the resulting technology for free??? I can see how that is fair (said in a sarcastic voice).

    And also pointed out:

    Profits from CSIRO patents are reinvested into research. This in turn lowers the required government funding thus saving Aussie taxpayers quite a bit of money.

  • by rat_herder (527991) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @03:56AM (#12564255)
    The current patent system seems to be falling apart, and needs urgent changes... but to say 'no single entity should be able to monopolize an idea' is silly. If there is no incentive to invest in a new ideas, those that need capital to develop may never come into existence. This is perfectly illustrated in the case of CSIRO. They have not bought the IP in order to sue people, they actually invested the money into the research. Now they have a right to profit from the idea.
  • by thephydes (727739) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @04:12AM (#12564299)
    There is a big defference between IP and patenting fragments of DNA. For one thing, IP is just that intellectual property - hence by definition has been INVENTED by someone. the gene fragment patent on the other hand does not cover invention or creation - it covers the patenting of something that already existed and was uncovered in gene research, so called "junk DNA". There is no good reason why CSIRO should not hold patents - the people there created the IP, CSIRO is owned by me (in part at least as an aussie) and the CSIRO - and hence I as a "shareholder" get some benefit, not least of which is that the royalties reduce my tax burden in supporting CSIRO. The company which patented the junk DNA should never have been able to do so, and nor, imho, should any company be able too patent something that is already there. the use of that junk DNA in a treatment of some sort? .... well thats a totally different issue and is an invention, so should be covered by IP patent
  • Re:As an Aussie (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cranos (592602) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @04:20AM (#12564319) Homepage Journal
    Sorry, we didn't grow up in a culture that says everyone has the right to bear heavy calibre machine guns.

    On the snide remark regarding australias armed forces, lets just remember that in the latest american adventure, it was australian special forces doing a lot of the ground work before the invasion even started. You guys couldn't even stop the looters from robbing the local banks

  • Re:SCrew the CSIRO (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @04:42AM (#12564371)
    And of course before letting a competing research facility through, they all signed an Non disclosure agreement and were told that all technologies that they would see were all under patent application.
    I learnt quickly at Uni you don't open your door unless you letting in your own people.
    If they did copy your technology then your development logs et al would clearly show your prior work.
    The only thing that will come of this is that at some point Mark Vale will stomp all over the CSIRO to protect the sanctity of the FTA and protect the US companies as he was voted in to do.
    No technology is Australian, it is all just unowned until US/Global corporate interests want it. Then it was never AU tech to begin with.
  • by ivano (584883) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @05:05AM (#12564442)
    Me thinks you were too young to remember the years under Howard/Frazier government.

    Ciao

  • by iamplasma (189832) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @05:27AM (#12564501) Homepage
    I suspect the reason everyone is now as you say "pro-patent" is that the patent itself is a reasonable one, more or less exemplifying a "proper" patent. What most Slashdotters (myself included) tend to hate are patents for software or idiotically simple things, or both. When someone patents hyperlinking, or some general idea like that, that's stupid, but when someone goes and invents a novel technology which is capable of making wireless connections run five times as fast, damn right they can patent that, and damn right they can have their $4. Also, to be fair it's an advantage that it's the CSIRO, so you know they're a genuine inventor, not out to bludgeon a profit and sue people to make a buck, like so many companies which go and buy patents in the hope of shaking down companies.

    Quite simply, it's that here is a textbook case of a well-meaning organisation developing a genuine technology, and simply asking for their fair and reasonable compensation for it. That's why I, and presumably most others here, support it.

  • by NoOneInParticular (221808) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @06:12AM (#12564607)
    You've got it wrong. Unlike many think, it has never been the intention that you can patent an idea. You can patent a device, that's it. The whole point about math being unpatentable is that it is pure idea. The whole debate on software patents is about the thin line in software between devices and ideas. That patent law has degenerated into the patenting of ideas, and that the population in general seems to be comfortable with the concept that ideas (and concepts, and thoughts, and anything anyone can come up with) can be exclusively owned by someone is a pretty scary situation.
  • Poetic justice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @06:37AM (#12564664) Journal
    I think the reason why people became "pro-patent in this case" is that the CSIRO actually use patents the way they were intended to be used. They invent something, then re-invest the money back into current research [csiro.au]. They have been quietly doing this under various names since 1916 and have a very impressive record of practical innovation and basic research.

    "...the ideas there such as OFDM and FEC, etc. are actually not all that ingenious." - CSIRO developed and patented the idea a decade ago, hindsight is always 20/20. As you say, anyone with a "deep understanding" could have thought of the idea but the fact remains that nobody did.

    "I oppose anyone who wants to use them offensively" - The corporations that are now whinning about paying $4 per chip are the same ones that pushed hard for US IP laws to be adopted under the recently signed free trade agreement. To me, (an Aussie), it is poetic justice when a "non-profit" can screw a cartel of the largest "for-profits" with thier own rules. Before the 1980's corporations used to buy CSIRO patents for a pitance and the Australian public would watch as Agri-corps and Drug-pushing-corps turned govt funded research into a private cash cow. The use of licenses to make "for-profits" pay for basic research is one of CSIRO's greatest innovations.

    Some examples of IP idiocy in Australia, patent for the wheel [newscientist.com], Ugg boots. [boingboing.net]
  • Those companies don't pay the 4.00 per chipset, that gets passed down to...us, the consumer. Those army of lawyers it will take to bust this patent...paid for by...us. If they lose and have to pay the 4.00 and for the army of lawyers, well, just raise the prices a bit. And if they win, does anyone think they will lower the price?

    What these companies should do to get around the patent is to pool their money and develop a *better* Open Source alternative to the patent in question.

    If they did that, that 4.00 in savings still probably wouldn't make it down to the consumer level, but maybe some developing country could use the OS tech to make some free chipsets where it would benefit someone in those countries through lower prices to the consumer.

    Yeah, I ain't going to hold my breath, but that's what these compaines should be doing.

    Usurper_ii
  • by wdmr (884924) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @09:37AM (#12565844)
    Did anyone read the second article? "One former executive of a top-ranked computer maker alleges the organization is asking a $4 licensing fee for each chipset using OFDM technology, amounting to up to 70 percent of a chipset's price" Personally, I think CSIRO's patents should be observed. But I found very little except this tidbit to explain the actions of the companies brining the action. Big groups of competing companies don't band together to bring an expensive legal action unless they have a very clear incentive. (speculating here) It may very well be that this step is being taken because while $4 doesn't sound like very much it is inhibiting putting wireless technology in very simple low priced devices or devices with a very low margin? Does anyone know if CSIRO was approached about altering the price structure and refused? A $4 skim off the top of a $1500 centrino-equipped laptop isn't much. But a $4 skim off a $12 USB Wireless fob is pretty harsh.
  • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday May 18, 2005 @10:02AM (#12566079) Journal
    Since CSIRO didn't invent OFDM (it was invented in the 1960s), if they are claiming everything using OFDM, they're out of line.

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