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CSIRO has won a US court case against Buffalo Technology in a battle to be paid royalties for its Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) technology. The result may mean manufacturers of WLAN products worldwide will have to pay CSIRO royalties for the technology.

The organisation filed suit before the US Federal Court of the Eastern District of Texas in February last year alleging that Buffalo’s 802.11a and 802.11g wireless devices infringe its US Patent which covers elements of this wireless technology that is now an industry standard. The patent was granted to CSIRO in the US in 1996.

Judge Leonard Davis of the US Federal Court of the Eastern District of Texas granted a rare summary judgment in favour of CSIRO, stating the patent is valid. He also granted summary judgment that there was no question that Buffalo’s 802.11g compliant devices infringe multiple claims of CSIRO’s patent.

CSIRO Chief Executive Geoff Garrett said “this is an important win because the Judge has supported CSIRO’s position comprehensively. We are obviously very pleased. However, it is only a brick in the wall – CSIRO still has a long way to go.”

The Texas ruling could have huge implications for the wireless networking industry worldwide. The 802.11a and g standards, which were adopted by the IEEE in 1999 and 2003, are estimated by the CSIRO as featuring in over 200 million devices sold in the US over the last three years. Dr Barrett says that the market is still growing, though manufacturers are using this technology without permission or license, and the suit against Buffalo and its Japanese parent was filed as a consequence. He also said that he hoped that the court would determine a reasonable royalty rate shortly.

In May 2005, Intel, Dell, Microsoft, HP and Netgear sued CSIRO in Federal District Court in San Francisco seeking a declaratory judgment that the 1996 patent was invalid and not infringed. This action had been on hold, with the CSIRO arguing that it is immune from law suits being a foreign government body. But this argument was dismissed by the US Court of Appeals, and CSIRO has filed counter-claims against these technology giants.

If it wins, the four companies are set to lose loads of money in royalties, considering that Intel is a major supplier of 802.11a and g chipsets, Dell and HP are major sellers of laptops (which come with WLAN built-in), Netgear makes wireless cards and access points and of course Microsoft offers wireless capability in Xbox and 802.11g built-in in its new MP3 player, Zune.

CSIRO has now moved to transfer the cases to Judge Davis, claiming that the Texas court is already familiar with case and its issues. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for tomorrow.

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