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CSIRO Sues US Carriers Over Wi-Fi Patent 308

Posted by kdawson
from the milking-it dept.
An anonymous reader notes that CSIRO has sued Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile in — wait for it — East Texas District Court. "Australia's peak science body stands to reap more than $1 billion from its lucrative Wi-Fi patent after already netting about $250 million from the world's biggest technology companies, an intellectual property lawyer says. The CSIRO has spent years battling 14 technology giants including Dell, HP, Microsoft, Intel, Nintendo, and Toshiba for royalties and made a major breakthrough in April last year when the companies opted to avoid a jury hearing and settle for an estimated $250 million. Now, the organization is bringing the fight to the top three US mobile carriers in a new suit targeting Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile. It argues they have been selling devices that infringe its patents."
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CSIRO Sues US Carriers Over Wi-Fi Patent

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  • by ignavus (213578) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:15PM (#32425496)

    The CSIRO is an independent government-owned technology research body - a bit like (say) NASA is in the US.

    The money isn't lining the pockets of some uber-squillionaire with a Lear jet, it will be funding a very worthwhile agency that can churn out even better research.

    Yeah, I would like it to be free too, but at least it is going to one of the more worthy technological causes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Itninja (937614)

      ...independent government-owned..

      Oh, you're adorable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jd (1658)

        Perhaps they should have said "possibly marginally less corrupt quango". (Let's face it, you can't vote out a corporate board of directors but you can vote out a quango's paymaster.)

      • by Gonoff (88518) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @07:38PM (#32426188)

        Most of the world sees their government and its subsidiaries as more answerable than a corporate or multinational.

        You can vote out a government, but a corporate monopolist is here to stay - until they get bought out by another one.

        I have heard of this organisation before. If it is a choice between corporate pirates or a Quango I will usually try and avoid the corporates. In the UK, we are just about to close a load of quangos that have outstayed their welcome. I imagine that there are many here on /. who would love to close down Microsoft. Too bad. They are not going anytime soon and they are just one of many.

        • Duverger's law (Score:4, Insightful)

          by tepples (727027) <<tepples> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @08:35PM (#32426608) Homepage Journal

          You can vote out a government

          Duverger's law is that a plurality election system will converge to two parties. If both parties support a measure, such as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, how can one vote out that kind of government?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by evilviper (135110)

            If both parties support a measure,

            Lucky for you, "parties" don't get elected. Individuals do. And you'll find plenty of politicians from both parties that disagree with their party on plenty of issues...

        • by Itninja (937614)
          I suppose that's true. But a corporation is actually independent. Whereas a quango, like NASA, just does what they are told by their leash holders. That's not necessarily bad, but it sure ain't independence. Maybe a better comparison would be like a 'wholly-owned subsidiary'; they do what they want, but only within well defined boundaries.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Capsaicin (412918)

            I suppose that's true. But a corporation is actually independent. Whereas a quango, like NASA, just does what they are told by their leash holders.

            But it doesn't work like that in Australia. For a start the independent government-owned (but increasingly partially self-funding, for which see CSIROs patents), organisations are corporations (statutory corporations), and exhibit a large measure of independence from government. For instance the ABC (the public broadcaster) is the only news service that will

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        ...independent government-owned..

        Oh, you're adorable.

        Yes, independent and government owned, you find that difficult to grok? Is the simplistic ideology you use to filter reality getting in your way of your understanding? Time to drop it and develop a less B&W view of the role of government. It will only make you wiser.

    • by dwywit (1109409) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:28PM (#32425620)
      And they need the money - they recently lost edu status with Microsoft, so they'll have to pony up more $$$ for software.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mark19960 (539856)

      Then why are they in East Texas District Court of all places?
      If you don't want to be labeled a troll, don't act like one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Just because an act is normally taken by a patent troll, doesn't mean that acting in that way makes you a patent troll. If you are undertaking legal action, the smart thing to do, regardless of the merits of the case, is to do whatever you can to maximise the likelihood of success.

        For patent infringement cases in the US, that means filing in the East Texas District Court.

        If you're looking to recoup a few billion dollars, and taking a particular action gives you an extra 10% (for example) chance of winning,

      • by SpazmodeusG (1334705) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:56PM (#32425872)

        Because even if you're right you'd be a fool not to sue in the easiest possible court.

      • by Marsell (16980)

        It's called "forum shopping", and all litigants with a clue take advantage of it.

        Whether your case is morally right or wrong, attempting to stack the case in your own favour is a rational action; nobody attempts to lose a lawsuit.

      • by Tanman (90298)

        Because Texas judges have the most patent experience and won't have the wool pulled over their eyes so easily by slick corporate lawyers?

        • by hedwards (940851)
          You mean because they have the most experience not being tricked by slick corporate lawyers representing defendants. They regularly get tricked by slick attorneys into giving out dubious awards.
          • by Tanman (90298)

            The point is this: Supposing you have a legitimate patent infringement case, where are you going to take your case?

      • EDT isn't even in the top five when it comes to plaintiff odds for winning. We've been over this before so I'm not going to repeat the reasons both plaintiffs and defendants like EDT.
      • by atmurray (983797) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:56PM (#32427600)
        The CSIRO is playing the same rules that apply to everyone. The reason why the big company's aren't happy is that the CSIRO has no need to do a patent "swap". Normally, the big companies would just threaten to sue each other due to patent infringement and then at the last minute agree to cross licensing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-licensing [wikipedia.org] with a minimal (if any) amount of money trading hands. However, the CSIRO doesn't make end product. As such they have no need for cross licensing. They just want royalties for their IP. Big business goes after the smaller guys that don't have IP to cross license all the time, why is it that now the shoe is on the other foot that everyone is up in arms about it?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:48PM (#32425806)

      True. However, I wonder whether the Australian taxpayers like the idea of paying an incrementally higher cost on all the wireless devices that depend upon the technology invented by CSIRO? Buy a cell phone? Pay more. Buy a wireless access point? Pay more. And so on. We know that if AT&T, Verizon, Dell, or whatever Australian equivalent lose the case and pay licensing fees they'll just pass the costs on to consumers. So, for their multi-million (billion?) investment in CSIRO, the Australian taxpayer gets to: A) pay more for products, B) fund a whole lot of lawyers for years and years.

      Win!

      As far as I'm concerned the only reason a government institution should be able to patent something is so that it can be royalty-free and someone else can't patent it. Making money off it seems ultimately self-defeating.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:58PM (#32425902)

        CSIRO is responsible for research and development,

        the money from royalties is funneled back into research and development.

        CSIRO invests heavily in developing alternative fuel sources including Biodiesel and environmental protection weed erratication in australia, advices government of sustainable business practices and improve farming practices.

        most importantly the more money they take from greedy International companies
        the less they drain from Australian Taxpayers

        Increasing the price of WIFI instruments may add a bill to 30 million Australians, but this is far outwieghed by 5 billion people world wide which will now pay extra on WIFI devices and that money will make its way into Australia

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      One could argue that this is worse. I expect multinational conglomerates to sue or demand royalties if given the chance, but a research body should arguably be above this, and their research should be freely available to all. This attitude is reflected in the way works for the US government are put into the public domain, and universities both public and private often release software under permissive license (BSD stands for 'Berkeley Software Distribution' and the MIT license comes from MIT).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SpazmodeusG (1334705)

        NASAs technology isn't open to all why should CSIROs?
        http://techtran.msfc.nasa.gov/working/patent.html

        As an Australian i'm happy that the government has a research arm. I'm also happy to see we make an effort to get other coutries to pay their share for the products of this research.
         

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          I would agree that NASA should release their patents as well, and the same would go for any other US government agencies and agencies of other governments. It's a waste of taxpayer's money all around (unless you are a lawyer, perhaps). If you want others to put in a share for research, do it collectively with an organization like CERN, or have your research be privately funded.
      • by dunng808 (448849)

        I would prefer that universities make research results free, but the treand has been going in the opposit direction. Universities patent whatever they can in hopes of making some money off it.

      • by victorhooi (830021) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @07:33PM (#32426158)

        heya,

        Oh please....

        As somebody insightfully pointed out above, the money CSIRO makes from these royalties will be used to fund more research - recouping the government's investment in R&D, so to speak. We may pay more for Wifi devices, if the manufacturers try to pass it on (although I suspect the highly-competitive nature of the market may mitigate that somewhat), but ultimately they'll be a net inflow back to the Australian people.

        From your statement, I'm going to assume you're US - see here, your NIH sues a pharmaceutical giant over missing drug royalties:

        http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v6/n12/full/nm1200_1302a.html [nature.com]

        And NASA's been embroiled on the receiving side with patent litigation with Boeing.

        Thing is, at the end of the day, this is the real world, and people like to protect the R&D they make. And as an Australian citizen, who's taxes fund this research, I would like to see the CSIRO being smart, as opposed to being dumb, and getting walked over by big manufacturers.

        Cheers,
        Victor

        • being smart (Score:3, Interesting)

          by zogger (617870)

          Being smart is taking your innovation and actually doing something with it, in this case, manufacturing. This is called "value added" in economics. Ya, they might get a quarter to a full billion from a settlement, but the people who *use* that tech and build with it make umpteen billions, over and over again.

          That's smart(er).

          Mideast oil producing nations sell their raw resources..then did nothing with it beyond splurging and blowing it mostly. They failed to develop any heavy industry of note, or any sort o

      • Do you realize how much money research and development costs? Do you realize that the only way it makes sense to pursue research and development is if it can support you financially? Do you realize why patents are a _good_ thing (not software patents). No? Well then you, sir, are a fucking moron. This is the real world not some hippie commune. Grow the fuck up. If you can't realize why CSIRO getting money it deserves is a good thing, then fuck you. If you can't realize why NASA getting royalties for

    • by Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @07:00PM (#32425910)

      Normally I'm cynical about government, but the CSIRO do good work.

      They're a bunch of scientists who get left alone by the government because the Australian Government doesn't understand them well enough to interfere with them. Previously underfunded, this 'lazy billion' might actually cause the government to sit up and try and to pay attention.

  • For once... (Score:5, Funny)

    by macraig (621737) <`mark.a.craig' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:17PM (#32425522)

    ... I think I might actually be rooting for a patent lawsuit to succeed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nephilimsd (936642)
      It's nice to see telecos reaping what they sowed, but in the end, consumers pay for everything. At some level, this will mostly harm end users.
      • by moortak (1273582)
        We get harmed either way, at least this way some of the pain hits the companies that have been sodomizing us for decades.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by obeythefist (719316)

        In this unusual circumstance, the assertion that "At some level, this will mostly harm end users." isn't really correct at all.

        Without the invention of these technologies, the telco's wouldn't have a product to sell. These technologies were funded by the Australian taxpayer. A patent was placed to ensure the invested cost of research could be recovered. US industry saw the technology, liked it, and used it without permission.

        Should the CSIRO win the case, they will use the money to develop more useful te

  • by ColaMan (37550) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:19PM (#32425544) Homepage Journal

    As I recall, these companies had an agreement with the CSIRO to implement their technology into the wifi standard in return for royalties. Everyone was happy with this, it was duly noted, etc.

    Which mysteriously turned into a big collective "Fuck You" when the CSIRO asked for their royalties a few years later on.

    So, as an Australian, I send a cheery "Fuck You" to those companies now, and I hope the CSIRO gets what they're owed, plus punitive damages.

    • by jd (1658)

      What did you expect to happen? Companies never pay royalties unless there's a bigger thug than them leaning on them. Of course, this means the Australian Government has now p4ned those bits of the US economy not bought up by China.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by thogard (43403)

      The real question is "Does the current AT&T have access to the old Bell Labs IP?" in which case this patent it dead if enough research is done.

      • by chgros (690878)

        Well, Bell Labs is now Alcatel-Lucent, so I doubt AT&T has access to its IP.

    • by initialE (758110)

      What you're saying is that there has been a violation of agreement between the companies and CSIRO. Why sue for patent infringement when that in itself is sufficient?

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)

      If what you say is true, then why is this a patent violation suit and not a breach-of-contract suit?

      Sorry, I'm not sure I buy it. As an Australian, do you have a cite to back up your claim?

  • Patenting Math? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:19PM (#32425548)

    CSIRO, which is also now targeting Lenovo, Sony and Acer in new cases, says mathematical equations in its patents form the basis of Wi-Fi technology...

    • Re:Patenting Math? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cappp (1822388) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:25PM (#32425602)
      I think the articles may be misstating the patents in question. You can't patent mathemetical formulae BUT you can patent their application. I would imagine that the patents specifically refer to the use of said equations in ensuring wi-fi reliability as suggested by the article's comment

      The CSIRO first applied for its Australian Wi-Fi patent in 1992, which solved the problem of patchy wireless reception caused by waves bouncing off objects

      • Re:Patenting Math? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Johnno74 (252399) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @10:34PM (#32427458)

        I think the relevant US patent is this (5487069). [uspto.gov]

        It appears to describe an special antenna setup as well as how to use the radio/antenna to get a data rate/ghz of bandwith ratio much better than previously practical.

        So its not a math patent, or a pure software patent (although part of the implementation is software). It looks like something the patent system was designed to protect.

  • What's a CSIRO? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:21PM (#32425562) Homepage
    For those of us not nerdy enough to actually know what the crap CSIRO is:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth_Scientific_and_Industrial_Research_Organisation [wikipedia.org]
  • by bleh-of-the-huns (17740) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @06:58PM (#32425896)

    As I understand it, chipset makers license the technology. Those chipsets are then incorporated into whatever product is being made, be that phones, pda's, laptops, etc etc.

    So in effect, the CSIRO wants to be be paid by the chipset makers, and then by the companies that use those chipsets, seems greedy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Gadget_Guy (627405) *

      So in effect, the CSIRO wants to be be paid by the chipset makers, and then by the companies that use those chipsets, seems greedy

      I agree. I have no problem with the organisation receiving royalties from the companies who misuse their IP, but going after their customers is just not on. While I have no love for telecommunications companies, in principle they should only sue the companies who directly use their technology.

      What's next? Sue all the customers of Verizon too?

  • by Swampash (1131503) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @07:01PM (#32425922)

    For once the patent system is actually working as intended.

    I for one applaud the CSIRO, and I look forward to seeing the freeloading corporations that have made billions on the back of the CSIRO's research get fucked in the ass.

    • by Drathos (1092)

      I don't think so. These companies aren't the ones implementing 802.11 tech, they're reselling it. They should only be able to go after the actual infringing implementers, not every step along the way. In general, that means companies like Broadcom, Marvell, and Intel, not the companies that use their chips in their products or the companies that resell them.

      Next thing you know, they'll be going after the consumers for buying infringing products.

  • Strange (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @07:08PM (#32425988)

    I wasn't aware of any carriers manufacturing their own wireless chips. Which ones are?

  • wait for it -- East Texas District Court.

    That court is popular with IP plaintiffs. Reasons cited: sympathetic jurors, lots of judges who don't need to brush up on IP law, low backlogs. We've actually been here before:

    http://news.slashdot.org/story/09/07/24/1236255/Patent-Trolls-Target-Small-East-Texas-Companies?from=rss [slashdot.org]

  • >"Now, the organization is bringing the fight to the top three US mobile carriers in a new suit targeting Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile."

    Um, sorry, but the top three US mobile carriers are Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint. T-Mobile is a distant fourth.

  • The Science and Industry Endowment Fund: http://www.sief.org.au/ [sief.org.au]

    "The Fund will make strategic investments in scientific research that addresses issues of national priority for Australia."

  • That they're the laughingstock of the American justice system, and that people on both sides of patent litigation see them as milking cows for patent squatters.

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