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Patent is network roadblock

The future of radio networking in schools could be restricted by a patent held by Bromcom Computers which is being used to prevent other companies from helping schools send pupil attendance data over their radio networks. Any school or company wanting to send this information over a radio network has to pay for a licence from Frontline Technology, a firm linked to Bromcom.

The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) is tracking the progress of a case being pursued by Bromcom in the Patents Court against TASC Software, a company that sells software capable of sending pupil attendance information on a wireless network. Apparently the patent isn't breached until data is sent, so TASC's software would have to be paired with hardware first. That is why the case could be settled out of court before its hearing date in January next year. In the meantime, the DfES advice to any school about to sign a contract with Bromcom is to wait for the result of the case.

The London-based company is the only licensee of a patent on wireless "attendance recording" held by its related firm, Frontline Technology. It has been recognised in the UK, several European countries, the US, Canada and Australia.

Ray Fleming, RM's secondary schools business manager, said the situation had forced it to warn customers buying wireless networks not to use them for sending registration data. "It defies common sense - it's a real handicap for schools and potentially a legal nightmare," he said.

The issue has also perplexed the networking community, and was featured earlier in the year on the VNU online news service (web address below).

Ali Guryel, managing director of Bromcom, said some suppliers had taken a "rather cavalier attitude" toward the patent. He claimed that no schools or local education authorities had been threatened with action over breaching the patent.


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