The CSIRO has recorded a $169 million deficit for the past financial year following litigation in the USA over the agency’s patent for its Wi-Fi technology, which is now licensed to 15 companies including Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Dell, Toshiba, Microsoft and Nintendo.
The deficit – detailed in CSIRO’s annual report – came about following the organisation’s win in the US courts, so far worth $205 million, and the consequent pressure it came under to donate $150 million to the Federal Government’s Science and Industry Endowment Fund.
The CSIRO patented the WLAN technology in 1996 that later was widely used in the IEEE 802.11a and 802.11g Wi-Fi systems..
After suing in US courts, the Aussie scientific and industrial research organisation has so far won more then $250 million in royalties from the likes of Microsoft, Intel, Dell, Toshiba, Nintendo, 3Com, Asus, Netgear, D-Link, Belkin and Hewlett-Packard over their unauthorised use of technology.
More recently the CSIRO also took on some of America’s heavyweights, suing the three telecommunications carriers: AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobil.
But its executives fought – and failed – to stop funds from the US court settlements being handed over to the Treasury.
”It was a windfall, but we weren’t allowed to keep it,” CSIRO staff association president Michael Borgas told the Canberra Times. ”This raises an interesting set of questions about the benefits of commercialisation of science. If you have a windfall and can’t hang on to it and re-invest it, then that doesn’t make for much of an incentive.
”We are now wondering how difficult it may be for CSIRO to access any of that money through the endowment fund. The preliminary indications are that it won’t be easy.”
The Science and Industry Endowment Fund was launched in Canberra last October by Federal Science Minister Kim Carr, who thanked ”those who by creating CSIRO’s wireless local area network technology have made [this fund] possible.
“While countries such as Germany and the United States have a history of endowments to support research, this hasn’t been the case in Australia outside the medical field, or at least not until now,” Carr said.
”It will plough income generated by licensing this technology back into the innovation system, extending our capacity to solve problems and improve lives.”