World Wide Web Consortium Issues Draft of Patent Policy

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Final Public and Member Reviews of Royalty-Free draft to start today -- 19 March 2003 -- Today, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) began what it expects to be the final review of the proposed Royalty-Free Patent Policy. The W3C Patent Policy aims to solve a specific problem -- to reduce the threat of blocking patents on key components of Web infrastructure. Both W3C Members and the general public are encouraged to participate in the review, which is scheduled to last for six weeks, ending on 30 April. The W3C Director's decision on the final policy, which takes into account the full range of feedback, is expected in May 2003.

"This policy, put together by a diverse and knowledgeable group, furthers the spirit of innovation on which the Web has thrived," explained Daniel J. Weitzner, Patent Policy Working Group Chair and Leader of the W3C's Technology and Society Domain. "Thousands of hours have gone into the development of this policy, including participation of W3C Members and invited experts from the Open Source/Free Software community. Our work has also benefitted greatly from the voluntary efforts of members of the public who read and responded to the various drafts."

After Three Years of Work, Diverse Parties Create a Common Path

The W3C Patent Policy Working Group was launched in October 1999, after a patent claim against P3P derailed the development of that technology. Based on a legal analysis of the claim, the threat was removed, and work successfully resumed. This and other experiences raised awareness of patent issues in the W3C Membership. The Working Group was created in part to make more concrete how W3C Working Groups could successfully work on Web standards in the evolving patent climate.

"Developing policy in this complex and often contentious area is difficult," continued Weitzner. "I commend all of the participants in the Working Group for working hard to build consensus around this proposal. No single group -- patent holders, open source developers or users -- got everything it wanted. But with this final draft, 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."

Participants in the Working Group include: AOL; Apple Computer; AT&T; Avaya; Daisy Consortium; Hewlett-Packard Company; IBM; ILOG S.A.; Intel; Lexmark; Microsoft Corporation; MITRE; Motorola; Nokia; Nortel Networks; The Open Group; Oracle Corporation; Philips Electronics; Reuters, Ltd.; Sun Microsystems; Xerox Corporation; as well as invited experts from the Free Software Foundation, Software in the Public Interest, and the Open Source Initiative.

Proposed Policy Keeps W3C Work Open and Recognizes the Existence of Patent Holdings

The primary goal of the W3C Patent Policy Working Draft is to enable W3C Recommendations to be implemented on a royalty-free basis. The policy also requires patent disclosure by W3C Members when they are aware of patents -- their own or others -- that may be essential to the implementation of W3C Recommendations.

In simple terms, the Patent Policy provides that:

  • All who participate in the development of a W3C Recommendation must agree to license essential claims (that is, patents that block interoperability) on a royalty-free (RF) basis.
  • Under certain circumstances, working group participants may exclude specifically identified patent claims from the Royalty-Free commitment. These exclusions are required shortly after publication of the first public Working Draft, reducing the likelihood that surprise patents will jeopardize collective Working Group efforts.
  • Patent disclosures are required from W3C Members and requested of anyone else who sees the technical drafts and has actual knowledge of patents that may be essential.
  • Patent claims not available with terms consistent with the W3C Patent Policy will be handled by a dispute resolution process.

Process for Handling Technologies in conflict with W3C Patent License Requirements

In some cases, W3C may become aware of technologies proposed for inclusion in Web standards that are not available according to the conditions defined in the Patent Policy. These conflicts could be caused by the patent holder wanting to charge a fee, or because of inconsistencies with of one of the nine other Patent Policy licensing requirements. In this case, W3C will convene a "Patent Advisory Group" (PAG) to investigate the issue. Each PAG consists of representatives from W3C Members participating in the Working Group. The PAG may recommend a legal analysis of the patent, instruct the Working Group to attempt to design around the patent or remove the patented feature, or may suggest stopping all work in the area.

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. 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.

According to Weitzner, the W3C Patent Policy Working Group chose to include a narrow window for considering non-royalty-free license terms in a desire to preserve a degree of flexibility for unexpected situations. The policy retains its fundamental commitment to royalty-free standards for the Web. "In crafting the exception process, we have proposed a multistage process with feedback and approvals. As a result, nearly unanimous support is required for such exceptions. This should only be used in rare cases and is only available after all other alternatives have been tried."

Scope of W3C Patent License Requirements and Impact on Patent Holders

The premise of the proposed policy is that it is in the interests of all who participate in building and using the Web -- including patent holders and all others alike -- to enable royalty-free implementation of Web standards. To this end, the policy doesn't require giving up one's entire patent portfolio; it concerns only those patent claims held by W3C Working Group participants that are essential to implement the specific W3C standard.

W3C Patent License Requirements Consistent with Open Source/Free Software Terms

The W3C Royalty-Free license requirements are now consistent with generally recognized Open Source licensing terms. This Royalty-Free definition provides an assurance that the Recommendations themselves are truly available to all users and implementors.

W3C Members, Public, Invited to Comment

In a special extended review period, W3C is soliciting feedback from both the W3C Membership and the general public, and has provided a summary of the Patent Policy for interested parties. Those with comments may send them to the Patent Policy mailing list, which is publicly archived. The Comment period for this final draft begins today and ends 30 April.

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 European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) headquartered 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, and various prototype and sample applications to demonstrate use of new technology. To date, nearly 430 organizations are Members of the Consortium. For more information see


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