HP, Apple urge W3C to just say no to patent standards

Apple Computer Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) have urged the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) not to allow patented technology to be incorporated in Web standards, backtracking on their original support of RAND (reasonable and nondiscriminatory) licences.

The W3C is developing a proposal for a "Patent Policy Framework" that would permit the standards body to endorse standards that use patented technology, and in turn allow the patent holder to issue RAND licenses to use the standard. Such a move could then lead to the patent holder's requests for royalty payments. Critics of the W3C draft proposal have argued that by endorsing patented technology, the W3C would be granting the patent holder a virtual monopoly over the standard's use and would also give that holder the ability to put the squeeze on competitors, small businesses and the open-source community.

The W3C set up a Patent Policy Working Group (PPWG) to advise it on the best course of action for dealing with patent claims and the resulting issues for the development of open standards for the Web. The PPWG had set a deadline of Oct. 11 to allow for public comment on the Patent Policy Framework.

Scott Peterson from HP and Helene Plotka Workman from Apple are listed as authors of the Patent Policy Framework proposal, along with Microsoft Corp.'s Michele Herman and Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV's Tony Piotrowski, and three other authors representing the W3C including the proposal's editor, Daniel Weitzner.

The same companies also have representatives on the PPWG discussing the issue, along with representatives from W3C and IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Nortel Networks Corp. and Reuters Ltd., according to the W3C.

Last week, both Apple and HP said that they had reconsidered the issue and would be pushing the group to change its position on RAND licenses.

"The intent of Apple's current statement is to refocus the W3C patent policy efforts on the goal of creating royalty-free and available Web standards," Apple said in a statement on Friday.

"While the current draft patent policy does state a 'preference' for royalty-free standards, the ready availability of a RAND option presents too easy an alternative for owners of intellectual property who may seek to use the standardization process to control access to fundamental Web standards. A mandatory royalty-free requirement for all adopted standards will avoid this result," Apple said.

For HP's part, Jim Bell, the company's director of standards and industry initiatives wrote on the W3C site on Thursday that "Hewlett-Packard Company opposes the adoption of the proposed W3C Patent Policy Framework in its current form and recommends that it be replaced by a policy with the goal of producing W3C standards that are all royalty free.

"Free, open, technically excellent standards have been the foundation for the Web's success in the past, and HP believes that they will be equally fundamental in the future. In particular, we feel that the ability to use W3C Recommendations (standards) without charge will be essential to their quick acceptance and to their universal acceptance," Bell said.

On Friday, W3C's Weitzner issued a statement thanking the public for its over 2,200 comments, and outlined the next steps in the Patent Policy Framework proposal process.

Firstly, the W3C has invited Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation and Bruce Perens, the co-founder of the Open Source Initiative to joint the Patent Policy Working Group as "invited experts," in an effort to improve communication between the open source and independent developer community and W3C, Weitzner said.

Secondly, the W3C will launch a "Second Last Call" for public comment before it finalizes policy, the deadline for which has yet to be determined, Weitzner said.

Weitzner will also "appear in as many public forums as possible," including the XML 2001 Summit scheduled for Oct. 28 to Oct. 30, to talk about the Patent Policy Framework, the Patent Policy Working Group and all of the issues involved, Weitzner said.

A final decision is expected from the W3C in February 2002. For more information on the Patent Policy Working Group, go to its public home page at http://www.w3.org/2001/ppwg/.

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