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Transcript of joint press conference with CSIRO executive, Nigel Poole: Canberra: 2 April 2012: CSIRO; wi-fi; science & research; technology; Federal Government

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SENATOR THE HON CHRIS EVANS Leader of the Government in the Senate Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research





EMILY BOURKE: The CSIRO's wi-fi patent saga has ended with Australia's chief science agency settling its second major round of litigation in the United States for $220 million. The wi-fi technology was invented by five CSIRO scientists in the early 1990s and is now used in billions of electronic devices around the world.

The trial against eight companies for patent infringement was due to start today but has just been settled out of court. The money will be split between the Federal Government and the CSIRO, and both regard it as a huge win.

From Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

REPORTER: Almost two decades ago, the CSIRO first sought to patent its wireless technology. Wi-fi is now used in more than three billion devices. That will soar to five billion by the end of next year when the patents expire.

NIGEL POOLE: It's become ubiquitous. One market researcher has called it the Swiss army knife of the twenty-first century in communications, and that's a wonderful accolade to the inventors.

REPORTER: The CSIRO's Nigel Poole has just returned from the United States, marking the end of a seven-year patent battle.

NIGEL POOLE: It's the largest amount of money that CSIRO's ever received for commercialising a technology. We're delighted with what we've achieved. It's an enormous sum of money for Australia; it's an enormous sum of money for our organisation.

REPORTER: The science agency started suing for patent royalties in 2005, settling its first case for $205 million. Its second lawsuit against three laptop makers, three mobile carriers, and two wireless chip makers, has just yielded more than $220 million.

SENATOR EVANS: The bottom line is it was Australia's and CSIRO's intellectual property. People using it are required to pay a licence, and thankfully that's now occurred.

REPORTER: The Science Minister, Chris Evans, says Australia's hard-nosed determination has paid off.

SENATOR EVANS: Clearly, this is a major win for CSIRO and a major win for Australian taxpayers.

REPORTER: But when you look at it, the Government and the CSIRO will have clawed back $425 million for something that's going to be used very shortly by five billion people. Is that really a lot of money?

SENATOR EVANS: I think $400 million-plus is a pretty good result, and we were very pleased with the settlement.

REPORTER: The Commonwealth expects to keep half of all the proceeds, and the CSIRO hasn't decided yet how it will spend its share. Neither is willing to discuss the details of the lawsuit.

NIGEL POOLE: I can't comment on the mediation and negotiation processes, but the answer is that we felt that the technology was extraordinarily valuable, we thought it was valuable to those companies, and so of course we put that case to them and to the judge quite strongly.

REPORTER: The CSIRO hasn't ruled out launching more litigation to get full coverage of its patented technology. AM understands Europe is the most likely target.

But a couple of billion, or 40 per cent of all wi-fi using devices, won't be covered by any patent. Nigel Poole says some things couldn't be foreseen.

NIGEL POOLE: What they did see very well was a world where products were going to communicate without wires and where laptops would be in people's homes, in their living rooms, not in their studies. But we couldn't see the evolution of the innovation system in the way it has, and so we didn't apply for patents in Latin America, within Russia, and neither China or India. With the benefit of hindsight, of course would have loved to have a Chinese patent or a patent in India as well.

EMILY BOURKE: That's the CSIRO executive, Nigel Poole, who led the patent negotiations. Alexandra Kirk with that report.