Aussie boffins will make a billion from Wi-fi

Aussie boffins are likely to score more than $1 billion from a lucrative Wi-Fi patent after already netting about $250 million from the world’s biggest technology companies.

CSIRO, which represents leading Aussie boffins, has spent years battling 14 technology giants including Dell, HP, Microsoft, Intel, Nintendo and Toshiba for royalties.

Last year the companies opted to avoid a jury hearing and settle for an estimated $250 million. Now CSIRO has shifted the fight onto the three US mobile carriers including Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile. It argues they have been selling devices that infringe its patents. Also in the dock are Lenovo, Sony and Acer in new cases.

At the heart of all the court cases are mathematical equations in its patents form the basis of Wi-Fi technology. The algorithms were the brain child of Sydney CSIRO researcher John O’Sullivan. In a 1977 paper O’Sullivan wrote about how a set of mathematical equations could be used to sharpen images from optical telescopes. He developed it while searching for exploding black holes. But they soon realised that the equations could be used for fixing the problem of patchy wireless reception caused by waves bouncing off objects.

CSIRO’s commercial executive director, Nigel Poole, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the Wi-Fi patent was the CSIRO’s most lucrative yet, but he would not comment on expected windfalls or on whether the next targets could be Apple, RIM and Nokia.

The patent was awarded to CSIRO in 1996 and the various companies who have been suing have tried to have it declared invalid, without much success.