Some of the biggest names in the wireless industry are taking legal action against claims that the Australian government owns patents for basic wireless LAN technology.

Microsoft, Dell, HP, Intel, Apple and Netgear, wish to nullify a patent held by the Australian government research body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), that apparently covers all IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN equipment.

"The patent is considered essential for implementing wireless local area networks that comply with several IEEE standards, and is now a standard feature of most notebook computers and many other devices," said a CSIRO release, in which the organisation promises to defend itself.

The CSIRO release does not specify which patent, but US patent 5,487,069, titled "Wireless LAN" and issued to CSIRO in 1996, is for a "peer-to-peer wireless LAN" that can operate in the kind of multi-path environment created by radio echoes in typical office buildings.

The CSIRO release says its patent allowed speed increases up to a factor of five over previous WLANs by a factor of five, and that CSIRO "offered licences on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms to major suppliers as soon as they started selling devices which used the CSIRO technology".

Buffalo Technology terminated negotiations, and CSIRO began legal action in the US against it in February 2005.

The patent describes three ways to get high speed transmission despite the hostile conditions in an office: transmitting over a relatively large number of parallel sub-channels within the available bandwidth so that each channel has a low bit rate; transmitting data in small packets with forward error correction (FEC); and using interleaving. These concepts all feature in descriptions of the 802.11 physical layer.

"As part of our business we create high-quality intellectual property, and we are prepared to defend it," said Garrett. We actively encourage the utilisation of the results of research in industry and communities, both nationally and globally, and any royalty income will be reinvested in further research."