WLAN patent threat may be resolved

CSIRO has responded to the IEEE about patents it may hold in the 802.11n standard, the IEEE said.

A roadblock that reportedly could have held up a key wireless LAN standard seems to have been cleared now that the CSIRO has responded to the IEEE standards body.

The standards board of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers reportedly had warned that 802.11n might be in jeopardy because the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization (CSIRO), had not provided assurances about its intellectual property. Analysts and WLAN industry participants questioned whether the problem would come to that.

The IEEE 802 committee, which oversees WLANs, Ethernet and other networking specifications, asked CSIRO earlier this year for a letter concerning how it would deal with technology in 802.11n that it believed it owned, according to an IEEE statement on Monday. It finally got an initial response on Sept. 26, the statement said. An earlier response by CSIRO wasn't on the form the IEEE now uses.

The standards body didn't say what CSIRO's response was. The 802.11n Working Group is still working on a draft of the standard for approval by the IEEE's Standards Board, IEEE 802 Chairman Paul Nikolich said in the statement, adding that he is confident the 802.11n project will be completed. A statement from CSIRO was not forthcoming.

The IEEE wants to know whether anyone holds patents on technology that may be essential to a standard. Patent holders can charge vendors for licenses to technology that's built into a standard, but if they do, the IEEE wants them to make the licenses available to everyone and reasonably priced. Letters of Assurance are forms that let patent holders lay out how they will treat intellectual property that ends up in a standard.

CSIRO earlier this year won an injunction against Buffalo Technology (USA) for infringement of patents CSIRO said are part of the 802.11a and 802.11g standards. The group also has suits pending against several other WLAN vendors.

The 802.11n standard, which calls for real throughput of more than 100M bps (bits per second) and greater range than current wireless LANs, has been long delayed. To get products out on the market, the Wi-Fi Alliance industry group is already certifying for interoperability products built using Draft 2.0 of the standard.

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Stephen Lawson

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