W3C Business Benefits of the W3C Patent Policy

W3C has adopted a Patent Policy to enable continued innovation and widespread adoption of Web standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. The W3C Patent Policy, operative as of February 2004, is designed to:

  1. facilitate the development of W3C Recommendations by W3C Working Groups;
  2. promote the widespread implementation of those Recommendations;
  3. address issues related to patents that arise during and after the development of a Recommendation.

The goal of the W3C Patent Policy is to assure that W3C Recommendations can be implemented on a Royalty-Free (RF) basis. This document explains the primary business benefits of developing technologies under this policy.

This is non-normative supporting material for the 5 February 2004 W3C Patent Policy. That document is the only authoritative statement of the W3C Patent Policy. The sole purpose of this document is to provide a list of benefits of the policy. Some important details are omitted and many provisions are simplified for the sake of basic understanding.

1. Access

Anyone implementing a W3C Recommendation developed under the W3C Patent Policy has Royalty-Free access to patents held by the Working Group participants that authored the Recommendation. Not to all patents, however, only to those patent claims that are essential to implementing the Recommendation. This provision promotes implementation through an attractive multiplier effect: patent holders who share their intellectual property according to the licensing terms of the policy gain access to other essential patents (which might exist). Patent holders participating in the W3C Patent Policy are permitted to grant a license for an essential patent and also require that the license recipient in turn license their essential technology according to the W3C licensing terms (reciprocal grant-back).

2. Protection

At the same time the W3C Patent Policy promotes access to patents, it allows patent holders to protect intellectual property. A number of provisions of the policy provide protection for W3C Members holding patents: (1) A W3C Member who does not participate in a Working Group has no licensing obligations for work carried out by that group. (2) A W3C Member who participates in a Working Group may exclude specific patents that they do not wish to license according to the W3C Patent Policy; this also sends a clear "IPR warning signal" to the Working Group. (3) Only patents essential to implementing the Recommendation are subject to the W3C Patent Policy (4) When a patent is subject to the W3C Patent Policy, the policy only concerns usage of the patented technology when implementing that specific W3C Recommendation (limited scope of use). (5) A patent holder can issue a license that can be suspended by the patent holder if sued (defensive suspension). (6) Within a limited time period, a participant may leave a Working Group without committing any of its patents.

3. Transparency

One of the principles that guided the development of the W3C Patent Policy is that participants benefit by working in an environment where intellectual property risks are known rather than hidden. While disclosure requirements have important benefits, they can also be burdensome. The policy provides transparency with minimum burden by not requiring patent disclosures by Working Group Participants. Those participants have made a commitment to license essential claims on a RF basis, so they only need disclosure when seeking to exclude a patent from the RF licensing obligation. Non-participants have a good-faith obligation to disclose patents (publicly) when they have personal knowledge of them and have been asked to disclose. The W3C Patent Policy enables engineers to focus on matters of Web technology development in a Working Group, shielded from intellectual property issues that are handled by managers.

4. Flexibility

At times, unexpected patent disclosures or licensing expectations may conflict with the goals of the W3C Patent Policy. In this case, W3C convenes a Patent Advisory Group (or, PAG) composed of representatives from Working Group participants to consider the situation and suggest a way forward to the W3C Director. As in other areas of W3C work, building consensus around solutions to patent issues is an important aspect of the W3C Patent Policy.

5. Rising Tide

Wide deployment of new, unencumbered, standardized, capabilities in Web technology expands the market for applications which may also incorporate proprietary technology. So long as the proprietary features do not undermine interoperability, this is fine. Royalty-free standards can thus be a vehicle for companies to gain revenue from their technology investments.

Ian Jacobs, W3C

Last modified: $Date: 2004/09/02 15:22:52 $.