World Wide Web Consortium to Investigate Patent Validity

Author(s) and publish date


W3C Issues Call to Developers for Information -- 3 May 1999 --The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) today announced that it is investigating the status of a patent claim which threatens open access to privacy protection technology known as the Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P). To aid in its investigative efforts, W3C is calling on the Web Community for help in locating "prior art," technology whose existence could be relevant to the validity of the patent.

"There are growing incompatibilities between patents and open standards; the trend towards filing patents in areas where standards are already underway is cause for both concern and action," stated Daniel J. Weitzner, Technology and Society Domain Leader of W3C. "The Web and developer communities can be instrumental in providing the evidence required to render questionable patents invalid, thereby maintaining an open Web. "

The Importance of P3P

P3P's design keeps users informed of sites' privacy practices, and allows them to control what information they choose to disclose to a Web site, as well as how that information may be used. P3P privacy disclosures and requests for information are expressed in the W3C's widely deployed Extensible Markup Language (XML).

P3P technology grows from a consensus process involving representatives from more than a dozen W3C member organizations, as well as invited privacy experts from around the world.

Questions Posed by Intermind Patent

Intermind recently received a U.S. patent, and has indicated that the patent may be infringed upon by W3C metadata standards, particularly P3P. The patent covers storage and transfer of "consumer" and "provider" information between two computers using a metadata control structure. Intermind has further stated that its "patents cover numerous additional features" of other communications technologies.

Recent software patents have been successfully challenged by the Web community because technology that the patent holder claimed was original, and deserving of patent protection, had actually be invented and disclosed already. Challenging patents by identifying pre-existing technology, referred to as "prior art," often has the effect of invalidating a patent altogether, or at least narrowing the scope of its claims.

What W3C is Doing

W3C has begun researching the validity and applicability of this patent, and is seeking information concerning any software or systems that predate the Intermind patent and can be described as follows:

A network system or architecture where a client (such as a browser) and a server exchange information using a control structure defined by metadata (e.g. expressed in XML) which describes

  1. how to transfer updated information from the server to the client
  2. how to transfer feedback information, and updates to that information, from the client to the server, and
  3. how to process the exchanged information by reference to the control structure.

Additionally, the receiving device must be able to process the metadata using instructions external to the control structure.

Those aware of publications, specifications, software programs, books, systems or any other information about any technology that performed any of these functions prior to February 29, 1995 (or less desirably, February 29, 1996) can send such information to and include the following information:

  • Name of the publication or system
  • Date of the publication or date system was publicly known
  • Where the publication or system can be found (i.e. university, reference library, company, contact person)

Further details and patent citations are provided at


About the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

The W3C was created to lead the Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability. It is an international industry consortium jointly run by the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (MIT LCS) in the USA, the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in France and Keio University in Japan. Services provided by the Consortium include: a repository of information about the World Wide Web for developers and users, reference code implementations to embody and promote standards, and various prototype and sample applications to demonstrate use of new technology. To date, over 320 organizations are Members of the Consortium.


W3C Contacts

USA, Asia
Janet Daly, <>, +1.617.253.5884
Ned Mitchell, <>, +33 1 43 22 79 56

Andrew Lloyd, <>, +44 1 27 367 5100


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