CSIRO Wants To Expand Its WiFi Tax: Sues Mobile Operators

from the no-wifi-without-paying-up dept

Every time we mention CSIRO, the Australian government-owned research group that claims to hold a patent on the basic concept behind WiFi, we get angry comments from people at CSIRO who claim that we’ve got it all wrong, and that even if they agree with us in general on patents, CSIRO’s WiFi patent and the hundreds of millions of dollars it sucks from companies doing actual innovation, is perfectly reasonable. Uh huh. Of course, we still have problems with the idea that any government organization ought to be patenting anything. However, following the decision by a bunch of tech companies sued by CSIRO to pay $250 million to settle the giant patent lawsuit, CSIRO is coming back for more.

JohnForDummies was the first of a few of you to alert us to CSIRO’s latest set of lawsuits against American tech companies, this time focusing on ISPs. Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile have all been sued, even though none actually make WiFi equipment. However, since they all have WiFi-enabled devices (some of which were almost certainly made by the tech companies who already paid up) CSIRO claims they need to pay up again. Apparently patent exhaustion is not a concept CSIRO considers valid.

Oddly, the article in The Age about this lawsuit seems to side almost entirely with CSIRO, quoting people who insist that companies have “no choice but to pay up” and that CSIRO has the right to demand licenses from the “entire industry.” It also quotes someone who falsely claims that the only reason companies would agree to settle is if they knew they were going to lose. That’s not even close to true. Lots of companies settle patent disputes because it’s often cheaper to do so. And, even if they think they can win, oftentimes their shareholders don’t like the uncertainty and push for a faster settlement.

The Age article also provides some more background on the patents in question, highlighting that they’re based on mathematical equations created in a 1977 paper. As JohnForDummies points out, mathematical equations are not supposed to be patentable…

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Companies: at&t, csiro, t-mobile, verizon wireless

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Comments on “CSIRO Wants To Expand Its WiFi Tax: Sues Mobile Operators”

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39 Comments
Here we go again says:

Patents, Guns and P2P

I find it interesting that on this blog when there is talk of infringement no one blames P2P software. When someone get killed by a gun no one blames the gun. But when someone sues over a patent you blame the patent. At the end of the day people are making the decisions to sue, patents by themselves do not do anything. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. We should not ban patents any more than we should ban guns. I’m all for patent reform but there really is no reason to abolish patents. I would agree that patents are too easy to obtain, as guns are too in some places. However, at the end of the day its the people making the decisions that are the real problem. Blaming patents is a case of 3rd party liability – same as blaming P2P software for infringement or blaming Winchester when someone gets shot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Patents, Guns and P2P

Patents and guns are both examples of things/objects that give people choices. Some people that have guns make the choice to use those guns to shoot other people. Some people that have patents choose to use those patents to sue or otherwise extract money from other people. You might not like all of the choices that people make, welcome to planet earth. The objects around which choices are made do not do anything by themselves, the people that posses the objects make the choices and execute them.

Patents do not sue, people sue.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Patents, Guns and P2P

Owning guns don’t make people shoot each other because not doing so would mean that they “forfeit their gun or their gun becomes generic”. In fact, a patent would be just the blueprints for the gun. Can you shoot a people with a blueprint? No. Can you sue someone over a patent? Yes.

Your analogy is completely retarded. Nuff said.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Patents, Guns and P2P

You seem to be confusing trademarks and patents. There is no requirement to ‘enforce’ a patent, you can’t lose it in the same way you can lose an unenforced trademark. The point is that we have all kinds of ‘dangerous’ things in this world and that its people that cause harm, objects by themselves do not cause harm. Get a clue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Patents, Guns and P2P

“But when someone sues over a patent you blame the patent.”

That’s because patents give the pretext to sue and contribute nothing useful to society whereas guns can have legitimate purposes. After all, what’s the purpose of having a patent if you can’t use it to sue? The purpose of a patent is to sue and exploit a monopoly, whereas the purpose of a gun is not necessarily to kill people with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Patents, Guns and P2P

You apparently missed the fact that in order to obtain a patent you must publicly disclosure the invention. In exchange for public disclosure of the invention a temporary monopoly is granted. After the temporary monopoly is over then anyone can legally use the invention. Society benefits from the public disclosure of every patented invention. In contrast there are some protections for Trade Secrets. With trade secrets there is no disclosure and there are no time limits. Look at Coca-Cola, they have kept their formula a secret for a really long time.

See “quid pro quo”.

The patent system needs some serious work but patents absolutely have value, value to society and value to the individuals or companies that hold them temporarily.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Patents, Guns and P2P

“Except that you missed the fact that disclosure doesn’t work as the language used is regularly made so vague as to be pointless”

Just because anyone can use an invention after the limited monopoly is over does not mean that anyone is capable of building or using. Sounds like you are saying that you have less than average skill in the art.

“whilst granting patents on things that shouldn’t be patentable at the same time”

The patent system is not perfect, no one is arguing that. Try working on your reading comprehension.

Modplan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Patents, Guns and P2P

“Just because anyone can use an invention after the limited monopoly is over does not mean that anyone is capable of building or using. Sounds like you are saying that you have less than average skill in the art.”

What? I’m saying you neglect that the “quid pro quo” you speak of in patent law doesn’t exist.

“The patent system is not perfect, no one is arguing that. Try working on your reading comprehension.”

After you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Patents, Guns and P2P

Show me one patent that does not disclose the invention itself. You can’t because they all do, its part of the process. Patents are not build instructions, they are documentation of a process, figuring how to implement the invention may just be an exercise for the reader. Nonetheless a patent explicitly discloses an invention.

Derek Bredensteiner (profile) says:

Re: Patents, Guns and P2P

I’m going to disagree with a few of the other replies to this, I don’t think the difference has anything to do with the useful purposes of guns or patents.

I’m fairly certain the difference is that a patent is an artificial monopoly granted by the government for the express purpose of furthering innovation (and it’s clearly not serving that purpose). Without a nation’s governing body explicitly granting this made up thing, it doesn’t exist. So the argument put forth is, why make it exist?

Whereas a gun is a tool that would exist quite well outside of any belief that it exists or not, so the discussion there is more “should this difficult to control thing be regulated and how is it possible to accomplish that?” not “should we maybe stop creating and recognizing this made up thing that’s causing all these problems for ourselves?”

Warren Feltmate says:

The problem with being allowed to...

The problem with being allowed to is that once they finish suing companies, it means I am next. Why not? They sued everyone else, so why can’t they sue me?

Now, I highly doubt they will sue me, as I am a student and making less than $20K a year, but what about Bill Gates or Obama? They use cellphones and certainly have enough money to make them an attractive target.

This is the same idea as how different collection agencies are trying to collect from a hundred different sources for the same performance vector.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The problem with being allowed to...

Are you making money from using the patent?… Probably not

The simple point is these company’s are using the patent without a license. Blame patent law if anything but i don’t see why the Csiro should be anymore lax with its patents then other company’s such as apple or nokia, which are also fighting about antenna patents.

The simple matter is if the people don’t want to pay for csiro’s method, they can come up with their own.

Lachlan Hunt (profile) says:

“CSIRO’s WiFi patent and the hundreds of millions of dollars it sucks from companies doing actual innovation”

You’re implication here seems to be that the CSIRO isn’t doing any actual innovation, which is not the case at all. The CSIRO does actually do a lot of real research and innovation in a lot of areas.

However, I do think it is extremely unethical for them to be suing other companies over patents, given that they are a tax payer funded organisation whos research should be done for everyone’s benefit, not just their own.

So, while the CSIRO is not your typical patent troll, they are certainly behaving like one with their extreme aggression used to enforce their patents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, I know, Vitamin B synthetics (Life needs the natural form to survive), the Cannabinoids (marijuana), Ephedranoids (sp? As in from Ephedra), lovastatin (as in from Red Yeast Rice) basically everything naturally occurring in plants. Then the FDA bans the naturally occurring plants and dietary supplements containing naturally occurring sources because they want the pharmaceutical corporations to unfairly profit from their patented synthetics. It’s really sad and unfair, does nothing to promote the progress, and everyone knows it. That’s why no true innovation exists in pharma anymore, it’s all just an attempt to money grab by making me too drugs with slight variations. They want to turn tech into pharma and destroy all innovation just to monopolize everything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh, and lets not forget about Stevia as well being banned as a sweetener (but not as a dietary supplement since that’s a different market than sweeteners and so won’t conflict) but the patented synthetics like Truvia et al being legal by the FDA. Nothing to do with safety of course, as the natural form has shown to be harmless in mice by many studies and there is no evidence that it harms humans despite the fact that humans have used it for many years in other countries and whatnot. It’s all a scam by the U.S. government to serve big business and not the public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Oh, and lets not forget gene patents, allowing Monsonto to pretty much own most of the market, and things like this

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100525/0310309561.shtml

Though a federal district court overturned gene patents, thanks to the ACLU, but it will surly get appealed. If it makes it to the supreme court it will indicate to us how truly free market capitalist the republicans are, are they truly free market capitalist or only when it serves big business?

Scootah (profile) says:

Patent Trolling vs Research Organization actually wanting to get paid

There is a difference.

Now see, I agree that patent trolling is bad. Patenting things that are in common usage, or things that are a logical extension of the existing products is stupid.

But the CSIRO owns the patent on a data transformation equation that was developed to solve a previously unsolvable problem. It required very extensive facillities and extensive specialist research and a high degree of specialist insight and creativity to develop.

If the equation had been say… the Formula for a vaccine to prevent a specific type of cancer (which incidentally, they do own a few of, and they’re one of the world’s leading research groups in the pursuit of others, which they make available much more reasonably then Phizer), Nobody would argue that they owned the patent, no question.

Hell, nobody argued that this was a perfectly reasonable patent to own when It was released under license to parties who agreed to pay licensing feeds and then magically became an industry standard – with no money actually going to the patent holders – even though there was a clear agreement that there should be.

So to clarify – a research company, who do lots of altruistic, nice things because they’re a pure research group with a non profit model who use their patents to fund further research, spent a shitload of money on equipment, funded a shitload of expensive researcher time and had a very clever specialist solve a previously unsolvable problem.

They then licensed that solution to some for profit companies who never actually paid them. Despite agreeing to do so before gaining access to the research in the first place.

After 10 years of polite reminders and 5 years of lawsuits – they finally actually got paid. Hooray. For once, scientists actually got funding as a result of major contributions to the betterment of technology. There’s no motive of shareholders trying to keep dividends and share prices high and restricting innovation.

Now, they’re looking to recover some money (which to re-iterate, will go to a non-profit, pure research group who works extensively on developing cheap medicines and making communication tools available to the very poor and releasing cheap information to try and help reduce obesity and cuddly hippy shit like that) from other companies who took the patented results of their very extensive investment that lead to solving an otherwise unsolvable problem and made a shitload of money from it.

Still not patent trolling.

CSIRO is a really, genuinely good organization who do a bunch of really genuinely good work and don’t get nearly enough funding. Being angry at them actually expecting to get paid in this circumstance is ridiculous. Lumping them in with Patent Troll’s is just offensive.

Pseudonym (profile) says:

Re: Patent Trolling vs Research Organization actually wanting to get paid

I agree that this isn’t technically “patent trolling”, but this lawsuit, unlike the previous lawsuit, isn’t playing nice.

The companies which made the equipment knew about the patent, licensed the patent and refused to pay up. They did something wrong.

The ISPs, on the other hand, may well have done nothing wrong.

Now I may be misunderstanding CSIRO’s case here, but as I see it, they’re going after those who, in good faith, bought pieces of equipment whose manufacturers didn’t pay up the licence fees. Well, at least some of those manufacturers have paid up the licence fees now. Going after customers too is punishing the innocent and double dipping.

Hell, I have several WiFi devices in my home which I paid for. Perhaps I should have paid a little more, had the manufacturers paid the appropriate licence fees. But I did nothing wrong! As much as I like the CSIRO, they have no business suing me because I, personally, have never infringed their patent.

Remember when SCO went after Linux customers, such as Autozone? That’s essentially identical to what’s happening here. I thought it was wrong then, and I think it’s wrong now.

(Disclaimer: I work for a sister organisation of the CSIRO which holds patents that may or may not be relevant to the next generation of WiFi standards. No, we’re not talking about equations here, we’re talking about hardware.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Patent Trolling vs Research Organization actually wanting to get paid

This article hasn’t even said what the csiro is asking for. saying 1billion dollars is useless information without disclosing how that figure was calculated. It could be that the csiro wants a 2% cut of profits per data, transmitted.

which over 5 years could be around a billion dollars. This would not be unreasonable. It would not be unreasonable to go after lost profits either.

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