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DfES warns schools on wireless patent charges

Schools face annual charges of up to pound;1,500 a year if they want to use their wireless computer networks to send pupil enrolment information from the classroom to the school administration system.

The controversial charges are being levied by Frontline Technology, the company that holds a patent to pupil data transmission. The only schools that will be exempt will be those that have bought their registration systems from Frontline's sister company, Bromcom Computers plc. Both companies have the same managing director and company secretary.

The proposed charges range from pound;125 for primary, first or special schools with fewer than 250 pupils, to pound;1,500 for secondary or middle schools with more than 1,400 pupils. Sixth-form colleges, private schools and further education colleges have to apply to Frontline to find out their licence fees.

But the Department for Education and Skills has urged schools not to enter any licence agreements until the status of Frontline's patent is established. It is monitoring a legal case involving Frontline and TASC Software Solutions Limited of Wolverhampton, due to reach court this month, which could challenge the patent's validity.

In its strongly worded advice sent to all education authorities in November, the DfES reveals: "The Department has taken its own specialist legal advice and has been strongly advised that the patent is invalid. If challenged in legal proceedings, there is a strong likelihood that the patent would be revoked. The Department has written to Bromcom setting out this view and has invited it to respond.

"Pending Bromcom's response and clarification of the status of the patent, the Department's view, based on its expert legal advice, is that schools and education authorities should not agree to take a licence from Bromcom to use other suppliers' equipment that may fall within the scope of the patent.

"In the meantime if any school or authority requires advice on this matter, or receives threats of, or is subjected to, an infringement action from Bromcom Computers plc or Frontline Technology Limited, please contact Colin Hurd, Programme Manager, Department for Education and Skills Information Management Strategy, Area GE Caxton House, Tothill Street, London SW1H 9NA. Telephone: 020 7273 5296."


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