Wi-Fi

802.11n ratification in jeopardy due to Australian patents


Ratifying 802.11n, the much acclaimed standard expected to redefine wireless networking, is somewhat ambiguous at this time. According to this September 21, 2007, Register article, the IEEE working group -- responsible for development of the 802.11n standard -- is meeting with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) to garner a Letter of Assurance. The legal document states that CSIRO -- owner of several patents associated with the 802.11n standard -- will not sue third parties who are developing products based on 802.11n. CSIRO's trump card is US Patent 5487069, which defines multi-path transmission techniques, notably a major component of 802.11n.

Letter of Assurance is essential

What makes the Letter of Assurance essential is that CSIRO is already suing several companies that have developed prerelease 802.11n equipment; one such example is the case against Buffalo Technology. In that particular case, CSIRO can claim some initial success, but the whole subject of a Nonpracticing Entity gaining a permanent injunction is very nebulous and better discussed in this Patently (patent law) blog. Still, the precedence set in the case against Buffalo Technology gives CSIRO a very strong bargaining position, at least in U.S. courts.

No response from CSIRO

As of this writing, there has been no response from CSIRO as to its intentions, and it is quite clear that the standard will not be approved without a Letter of Assurance, as mentioned in an internal memo sent from the Standards Board to 802.11 chairperson Stuart Kerry:

"The IEEE-SA Standards Board will not make any final determination without first hearing your explanation of why the 802.11 working group is proposing IEEE-SA SASB approval of a draft standard without a response to a pending request for an [Letter of Assurance] for a known potentially Essential Patent Claim, but any standard submitted on that state of facts is at serious risk of not being approved."

This issue needs to get resolved quickly, as Wi-Fi equipment makers may decide to stop development and manufacture of 802.11n-related devices, fearing the threat of lawsuits. Hopefully, the powers that be realize slowing or stopping the advancement of Wi-Fi technology would be bad for anyone.

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10 comments
BBPellet
BBPellet

Well if the CSIRO is not willing to give the letter, nor willing to drop their suits. For the betterment of all. Then the US should drop their patents altogether and deny future patents until they provide the letter. They could make more profits by releasing the patent and allowing the improvement of wireless technlogy for all. It has been my personal view point that protocols, and standards should be opensource, and only the hardware designs should be copyrighted. Not the standards that are used to make the design.

ComputerCookie
ComputerCookie

Sorry Brian, but where did you get your qualifications from? They obviously didn't explain to you that the CSIRO invented wireless!! If it was invented by HP,IBM or Intel what would have been the difference, or is this a case of aussie bashing!! As for outher idiotic comments, the fact that they employ researchers to do the job has nothing to do with it at all.Get your own legal people to explain it to you! Who cares about 802.11n, by the time this is sorted out they will have increased 10 fold!! See below, http://www.ict.csiro.au/page.php?did=52

jon.h
jon.h

The whole issue of patents and copyright law is a major problem. Patents were designed to protect the inventor of a "thing" that was new and unique. It denied patentability to "prior art" or something that is obvious to an ordinary individual. Traditionally, ideas cannot be patented. Copyright was designed to protect written works. Now here comes a problem - since the source code is a written work it should be able to be copyrighted, but not patented. Hmmmm! Engineering standards are essentially ideas, not patentable, but the written documentation of them can be copyrighted. Somebody has to get us out of this mess of litigation in a way that is fair to the developer of a product, but which will not impair technological progress, and will promote the free flow of ideas.

jhuybers
jhuybers

Maybe Intel, Dell, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Netgear shouldn't have tried to sue the CSIRO over the '069 patent in the first place? Maybe the research and resources the CSIRO has used should be duely recognised and the CSIRO compensated? The CSIRO is not NTP and has real claims to their patents.

links
links

should be pressurized somehow and made to see sense but the part about patents is what I can't agree with... Look at it this way...if the protocols and standards are open source that basically means that the theory/concept behind the patent is revealed...This means that anyone can get up and use the concept to build a machine that works just about as great or as great or better than yours... Now: a)You've probably worked a long time developing this device/machine/whatever and if you're a small time company, you're screwed because the bigger companies don't even have to buy you out to get your patent, they can just "design" their "own" version and market it better as well... b)allowing the protocols/standards which IMO comes down to theories/concepts to be opensource could set a precedent for other things as well...computer devices aren't dangerous but imagine if it were for a new kind of rocket propulsion system or whatever and anyone can make a design of the theory... I might be dead wrong in understanding what you're trying to say though...so...just in case...my bad AIT2 tape

JCitizen
JCitizen

you site here and many more. But congress does nothing every time it revisits the issue. Or at least nothing I can detect.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I think that the analysts are more concerned about the fact that CSIRO is just a patent holding company. They did not develop the patent, but are the assignees. This is becoming big business and I wrote a post about a similar situation here in the US where NTP (a holding company) is trying to sue the major telco's. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/wireless/?p=133 Edit by Michael Kassner: Please refer to my next post as my reference to CSIRO as a patent holding company is in error and I apologize.

goldenpirate
goldenpirate

CISRO - My god, I missed it and I live just across town from their Geelong facility. I must be getting too old. So obviously the inventors have given the 'disposal' rights the CSIRO. That raises a further question: were they actually employed by the CSIRO at the time that they worked on the standard? Let's face it, in these issues there is always a commercial (money) side. I dont remember if you said anything in your comments about there being some sort of financial offering/agreement etc etc or not. I'll have to do a re-read.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I certainly appreciate your questioning my post, it seems my hands were working faster than my brain on that comment. Being somewhat embarrassed to admit it now, but I actually do realize what the CSIRO agency is and even linked their site in my blog post. As for the patent holders, I did mention and link the most pertinent US Patent 5487069, if I understand your question correctly. The inventors were from Australia and the CSIRO is the patent assignee. Again, thank you for taking me to task on a poorly worded forum post.

goldenpirate
goldenpirate

Michael, you say that the CISRO is just a patent holding company. Are you actually aware of what the CISRO actually is? Secondly you state that 'They did not develop the patent at all.' but failed to indicate who did. Could you perhaps clarify your comments in this regard?

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