W3C Adopts Patent Policy

After years of wrangling over whether it should recommend standards which
could include royalty conditions, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tuesday created a policy which provides a narrow method for including
non-royalty free technology in exceptional circumstances.

The W3C ratified its new W3C Patent Policy in a meeting in Budapest
Tuesday, “based on widespread member endorsement, agreement in the W3C
Patent Policy Working Group, and support from interested members of the
public,” the standards organization said.

“It was not unanimous but it was an overwhelming majority,” Daniel
Weitzner, W3C Technology and Society Domain Leader and chair of the Patent
Policy Working Group, told internetnews.com from Budapest. “We got
more member votes on this issue than any other issue we’ve ever submitted
to the membership. We also got more positive votes overall than any other
recommendation in the history of the consortium.”

He added, “I’m really happy about it. I think that it’s going to be a
really important step for W3C and really important for the future of the
Web. In some ways, all this policy does is kind of formalize the informal
expectations that have been critical to the Web all along. There’s some
sense that all we’ve done is write it down. But I think that taking that
step of really securing agreement so broadly in the community is going to
make a big difference for the future.”


The W3C’s quest to create a patent policy has been contentious since its first Patent Policy Framework draft was released in 2001.
But after two years of ironing out issues, Weitzner said the working group
achieved its goals and created a policy that almost all W3C members could
support.


“For a number of members, [the vote] reflected substantive support for this
policy,” he said. “I think it also reflected a sense that this was
certainly a hard-fought compromise. I think even for those members who
might have preferred a different policy, they were willing to support this
because they saw it was a policy that the entire consortium could live and
work with.”

The new patent policy requires that all those who participate in the
development of a W3C recommendation must license essential claims on an RF
basis. It requires W3C members to make patent disclosures, and requests
anyone else who sees the technical drafts to share knowledge of patents
which may be essential.


But the policy also lays out an exception handling process for dealing with
unexpected patent claims that are not consistent with the terms of the W3C
Patent Policy, for instance, if a company not involved with the W3C claims
that a particular specification developed by the consortium depends on one
of its patents. In such a case, the policy outlines a very specific
procedure to follow.


If a situation arises, the policy calls on the W3C to convene a Patent
Advisory Group (PAG) to investigate the issue. Each PAG will consist of
representatives from W3C members participating in the working group, and
the PAG may recommend a legal analysis of the patent, the removal of the
patented feature, or stopping work in the area altogether.

“If all avenues to reach a result consistent with W3C Licensing
requirements have been exhausted, the PAG may recommend to the W3C
membership that the technology be included anyway,” the W3C said. “Such a
recommendation requires that the precise licensing terms are publicly
disclosed and will be subject to review by the public, the W3C membership,
and the director.”

“Anyone who thinks that’s going to be an easy way to squeeze fees out of
Web standards I think is mistaken,” Weitzner said.

He added, “I view that really as just building in a measure of flexibility
into the policy.”


Weitzner said the organization will now prepare to use the policy and
project it will implement it by the fall.

“W3C members who joined in building the Web in its first decade made the
business decision that they, and the entire world, would benefit most by
contributing to standards that could be implemented ubiquitously, without
royalty payments,” said Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and father of the
World Wide Web. “By adopting this patent policy, W3C’s members will
continue to be able to concentrate on the business of producing the best
possible technical standards for the Web with the best chance for
widespread adoption. W3C now sets the benchmark for the pragmatic way to
successfully develop royalty-free Web standards in the current patent
environment.”

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