W3C Last Call Goes Royalty Free

The W3C wants to make sure that technologies that are adopted -- or even considered -- as web services standards be available to ISVs and end users on a royalty-free basis. Failing that, the group wants to put in place work-around policies that will make sure work on web services standards doesn't drag. After more than a year of discussion and back-and-forth proposals, the W3C last week released its Last Call document lining out its Royalty-Free Patent Policy.

Tags: Patent, Royalty-free, Patent Policy, Recommendations, Draft, Technologies, Vendor,

"The primary goal of the W3C Patent Policy Working Draft is to enable W3C recommendations to be implemented on a royalty-free basis, and to encourage disclosure by both W3C Members and others when they are aware of patents -- their own or others -- that may be essential to the implementation of W3C Recommendations," the W3C proposal reads in part.

Translation? "In simple terms, all who participate in the development of a W3C Recommendation must agree to license essential claims (patents that block interoperability) on a royalty-free (RF) basis."

Further translation: The "gray area" of supporting reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) licensing is gone from W3C policies.

The policy statement just as concerns have arisen over whether all elements of SOAP 1.2 will be available royalty-free. While only one vendor (WebMethods) has refused to officially comment on its plans for patent-protecting its SOAP-specific technologies, many analysts expect the W3C vendor companies to reach some compromise for making SOAP available RF under W3C rules. (See story). SOAP 1.2 is also in a Last Call phase at the W3C (with a Dec. 31 deadline).

W3C Eyes RF Options

But, even when vendors may be reluctant to hand over all their technologies royalty-free, the W3C Royalty-Free Patent Policy document proposes a process for resolving disputes. Options include: (a) designing around the patents, (b) investigating the validity of the patents, or (c) transitioning the work to another organization that is willing to produce RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory terms) standards.

In an attempt to ward off vendor concerns that a formal W3C royalty-free policy might be threatening to a company's intellectual property (IP), the W3C added: "The [proposed] policy does not require giving up one's entire patent portfolio; it concerns only those patent claims that are essential to implement a standard that one participates in developing at W3C. W3C is clear in aiming to solve a specific problem -- to remove the threat of blocking patents on key components of Web infrastructure."

The current W3C draft explicitly recognizes the contentiousness of the royalty issue. "In previous drafts, the Patent Policy Working Group wrestled with issues regarding both royalty-free and other technologies being incorporated into W3C Recommendations. With this draft, the Working Group explicitly proposes the following:

  • (1) Royalty-free (RF) recommendations only are allowed;

  • (2) All participants must make up-front commitments to RF licenses for recommendations they participate in developing;

  • (3) The W3C Patent Policy draft allows participants to retain defensive use of their patents; the RF licensing only applies to technologies essential for implementing the W3C Specification.

    In addition, the W3C added, "The current draft is considerably less complicated than previous versions. The Working Group removed special rules for contributors. Further, with the elimination of the RAND track, there's no possibility of switching a design effort in the middle from a RF to a RAND group."