World Wide Web Consortium Approves Patent Policy

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W3C Members, Director Establish Policy for Encouraging Royalty-Free Web Standards -- 21 May 2003 -- Today, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced approval of the W3C Patent Policy, based on widespread Member endorsement, agreement in the W3C Patent Policy Working Group, and support from interested members of the public. The W3C Patent Policy aims to solve a specific problem -- to reduce the threat of blocking patents on key components of Web infrastructure.

"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, explained Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director. "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." Berners-Lee's full remarks are available on the Web.

W3C's Membership Takes Lead in Supporting Royalty-Free Standards for the Web's Second Decade

Based on overwhelming support of the W3C Membership, agreement in the Patent Policy Working Group and support from interested members of the public, W3C's Director approved the W3C Patent Policy. The Policy lends support to the basic intellectual property business model that has driven innovation on the Web from its inception. Companies, researchers and independent developers make contributions of design insights, valuable engineering resources, and hard work in order to develop technical interoperability standards upon which a worldwide information infrastructure can be built. Beyond establishing a commitment to royalty-free standards, the policy provides W3C with a stable, practical patent policy, a clear licensing framework, consistent disclosure obligations, and a reasonable dispute resolution process. This policy will help W3C concentrate on the business of producing the best possible technical standards for the Web.

"The Patent Policy represents what may be the most thorough effort to date in defining a basic patent policy for standard-setting," continued Berners-Lee. "I thank the participants in the PPWG for their diligent and thoughtful work in what was necessarily a politically contentious environment. We should all thank and congratulate those who contribute time, expertise, patience and a spirit of cooperation to this effort."

Participants in the Patent Policy Working Group include: AOL Time Warner; Apple; AT&T; Avaya; Daisy Consortium; Hewlett-Packard Company; IBM; ILOG.; Intel; Lexmark; Microsoft Corporation; MITRE; Motorola; Nokia; Nortel Networks; The Open Group; Oracle Corporation; 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.

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

The primary goal of the W3C Patent Policy 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 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 addressed by a exception handling 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 situations may arise when a patent holder wants 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.

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," explained Daniel J. Weitzner, W3C Technology and Society Domain Leader, and chair of the Patent Policy Working Group. "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 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 Royalty-Free Licensing Requirements support Open Source/Free Software developers

The W3C royalty-free license requirements are consistent with generally recognized Open Source licensing terms. This royalty-free definition provides reasonable assurance that the Recommendations themselves are available to all users and implementors of the Recommendation.

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, more than 400 organizations are Members of the Consortium. For more information see


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