While there is debate about who actually invented the wireless LAN, Wi-Fi was invented by a group of Australian scientists working for a government research agency known as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization or CSIRO. Astrophysicists Dr. John O'Sullivan was the head of the team who worked on the project.
The CSIRO team was formed with the intention of producing a wireless network, although the members only began work in the early 1990s, at which point some of the key technologies already existed. The claim to have invented Wi-Fi has been supported by the American court system which has granted CSIRO the right to hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from companies, such as T-Mobile and AT&T which manufacture Wi-Fi enabled devices. The court decisions center around United States Patent Number 5,487.069, which was granted to CSIRO in 1996.
The groundwork for Wi-Fi was laid much earlier by inventions, such as one made by Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. She co-developed an early version of spectrum spread technology, a necessary precursor to wireless, during World War II as a way of preventing the hijacking of remote controlled torpedoes.
Wireless LANs became possible after a 1985 ruling by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission, which made certain frequencies available for use without a license. Early LANs could not communicate with each other until Ethernet standards were established under the 802.11 committee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers beginning in 1988.