Director's Decision, W3C Patent Policy

Overview and Public Summary

Based on overwhelming support of the W3C Membership, consensus in the Patent Policy Working Group and support from interested members of the public, I have determined that the proposed Royalty-Free Patent Policy should become the Patent Policy for W3C. The Policy affirms and strengthens the basic business model that has driven innovation on the Web from its inception. The availability of an interoperable, unencumbered Web infrastructure provides an expanding foundation for innovative applications, profitable commerce, and the free flow of information and ideas on a commercial and non-commercial basis.

Beyond establishing a commitment to royalty-free (RF) standards, the policy provides W3C with

This policy will help W3C concentrate on the business of producing the best possible technical standards for the Web.

Background on the Development of the Web, and the relationship to Patents

Many participants in the original development of the Web knew that they might have sought patents on the work they contributed to W3C, and that they might have tried to secure exclusive access to these innovations or charge licensing fees for their use. However, those who contributed to 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.

This decision on the W3C Patent Policy coincides almost exactly with the tenth anniversary of CERN's decision to provide unencumbered access to the basic Web protocols and software developed there, even before the creation of W3C. In fact, the success of technical work at the World Wide Web Consortium depended significantly on that decision by CERN. The decision to base the Web on royalty-free standards from the beginning has been vital to its success until now. The open platform of royalty-free standards enabled software companies to profit by selling new products with powerful features, enabled e-commerce companies to profit from services that on this foundation, and brought social benefits in the non-commercial realm beyond simple economic valuation. By adopting this Patent Policy with its commitment to royalty-free standards for the future, we are laying the foundation for another decade of technical innovation, economic growth, and social advancement.

Results of Member Review

There is strong support within the Membership and Web community-at-large to adopt this policy. The total number of Members supporting the policy is very high (higher than any technical Recommendation recently adopted) and public support for the royalty-free goal of the policy has been significant. Based on changes made to the policy in response to earlier comments, the Advisory Committee review indicates that the overall level of support has increased in the last year. What's more, we should be pleased that the Patent Policy Working Group (PPWG) recommended the policy in its current form (but for some minor changes) without formal objection from the very diverse membership in that Working Group.

This policy discourages revenue generation strategies that work by forcing standards-compliant applications to pay licensing fees. While the policy necessarily involved choices that could be perceived as threatening certain business models, I believe that this policy is the right one, from a revenue perspective, for all who seek to contribute to the development of the Web and who ultimately seek to profit from its growth. However, it does not preclude licensing activity for all technologies on the Web. Indeed, by supporting the continued growth of the underlying Web infrastructure and by growing the overall market for the Web, this policy increases the opportunity for financial gain (including from patent licenses) on applications that depend upon the Web. My hope is that those Members who have expressed opposition to the policy until now will find that it is still in their interest to participate in the growth of the Web. We will certainly work to be sure that this policy is implemented in a manner that is fair to all.

The policy includes a process (section 7.5.3) by which W3C may chose, after considerable deliberation, to include technologies not available according to the defined royalty-free terms. In order to take such a step, substantial consensus of both those participating in developing the technology and the W3C Membership are required. A nearly equal (small) number of commenters object that this provision is either too limiting or too broad. Some say that the policy must make broader accommodation for non-RF (possibly fee-bearing) licensing. For reasons stated above, we will not take this path. Others say that the policy ought to exclude any non-RF technologies without exception. This exception process is only designed to be used in the rarest cases and ought not to function as a general allowance of non-RF terms. However, it is important to have such an exception handling process in order to deal with the truly unexpected situation without causing the technology development process to halt needlessly. I recognize that inclusion of this provision was a significant compromise for many in the PPWG. Based on the high level of support for the policy overall, and the relatively low level of objection to this provision, I believe that the policy strikes the proper balance.


The Patent Policy represents what may be the most thorough effort to date in defining a basic patent policy for standard-setting. I thank the participants in the PPWG for their diligent and thoughtful work in what was necessarily a politically-contentious environment. No single group -- patent holders, open source developers or users -- got everything it wanted. But the Working Group believes it has found a common, workable path that will encourage the widespread adoption of W3C standards across a wide range of business models, from proprietary to open source. We should all thank and congratulate those who contributed time, expertise, patience and a spirit of cooperation to this effort.

Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director
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