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W3C Removes RAND From Patent Policy

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tuesday put on the back-burner a proposal that would have allowed its specifications to utilize patented technologies for which companies could demand royalties.

Following a firestorm of controversy that erupted in September after the W3C put forward a Patent Policy Framework proposal in August that suggested the standards body should support reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) licensing, the organization Tuesday published a revised draft focused entirely on Royalty-Free (RF) specifications. The sections dealing with RAND were removed.

"What we heard from the independent developer community, from the open source community, and from many, many of our members was that as a general matter Web standards really should be implemented royalty-free," said Danny Weitzner, chairman of the W3C's Patent Policy Working Group.

In addition to removing the RAND track for W3C working groups, the revised draft also calls on all working group participants to commit to RF licensing, and only allows the defensive use of patents in a case where a holder of essential claims is sued for patent infringement in the implementation of a W3C recommendation.

"The overwhelming priority for the W3C, I think, has got to be royalty-free recommendations," Weitzner said.

That doesn't mean the body has shelved RAND considerations. The Patent Policy Working Group is still considering whether and how RAND licensing should be allowed in W3C specifications, and continues to seek public and member comment on that issue.

Future discussion of RAND specifications will focus on three perspectives.

"Some people say W3C should never endorse a recommendation that's not implementable royalty-free," Weitzner said.

Others, he noted, feel that the body should have some sort of mechanism for dealing with exceptional cases. Weitzner described a hypothetical scenario in which a working group spent three years working on a specification before a company that is not a member of W3C came forward with a patent claim and could not be convinced to make that patent available on an RF basis. In that case, Weitzner suggested that W3C may benefit from the ability to negotiate a RAND license for the technology in order to save the work that had already gone into the specification.

"What would distinguish that approach from what we had proposed in August is that we would never intentionally start out to produce a specification that was only available on RAND terms," Weitzner said.

The final perspective is the one put forward in the original Patent Policy Framework proposal, in which working groups could work on recommendations that are RAND from the beginning.

In the meantime, W3C is seeking public and member comment on the current draft Patent Policy Framework, which will go through at least one more public draft before it is finalized. The W3C said there remain questions about how the terms of the RF license as defined in the policy will interact with various open source licenses.

"Though the Patent Policy Working Group believes that the RF license as proposed is compatible with most major open source licenses, there are still questions about interaction with the GPL," the organization said Tuesday. "The Patent Policy Working Group is working toward resolution of GPL-related issues."