World Wide Web Consortium Releases New Draft of Patent Policy

Community and Member Feedback Shapes New Royalty-Free Draft

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) today published a revised Patent Policy Working Draft which is based on strong, explicit commitments to producing Royalty-Free (RF) specifications. To achieve the goal of producing Royalty-Free specifications, the draft requires all who participate in the development of W3C Recommendations to make any essential patents they hold available for free.

The option which would have permitted W3C Members the option to charge for the use of patented technologies in W3C Recommendations (called “reasonable and non-discriminatory terms”, or RAND) has been removed, pending final resolution of the question of what role RAND technologies should play in Web standards.

W3C Patent Policy Draft Incorporates Public and Member Feedback

Since the August publication of the first public Working Draft of the W3C Patent Policy, the Patent Policy Working Group has received thousands of email messages from both W3C Members and the public, with questions and concerns regarding the document. Many of the constructive suggestions provided direction and points of discussion for the Working Group. The Patent Policy Working Group has invited Members of the Open Source community as participants and has published publicly-readable
minutes for each meeting.

W3C Makes Formal Commitment to Royalty-Free Specifications

The new Patent Policy Working Draft differs from the previous draft in three significant ways:

  • The RAND track for W3C Working Groups has been removed. There is no process in this policy for developing RAND specifications. However, the Working Group has an open question on options for accommodating RAND technologies in exceptional circumstances.
  • Working Group Participants must now commit to Royalty-Free Licensing.
  • Defensive use of patents is allowed only in the case where a holder of essential claims is sued for patent infringement in the implementation of a W3C Recommendation.

Though the final W3C Patent Policy is still under development (this recent draft is a version of what will become the final policy), W3C`s current operating procedure with respect to patents already contains a firm commitment to Royalty-Free standards.

Work Continues, Additional Drafts in 2002

The Patent Policy Working Group seeks public comment on this new Working Draft and encourages the larger Web community to be aware of the state of discussions within the Consortium. As with the previous draft, public comments are considered valuable, and will be taken into account for future revisions. Though the basic outline of this policy is now stable, it remains a work in progress, with several significant issues remaining unresolved.

Notably, neither the Patent Policy Working Group, nor the W3C Membership as a whole has a final decision about what role, if any, RAND technologies will play in the final policy. Both public and Member comments had a significant impact on the direction of the policy, which puts priority on developing RF specifications. However, many W3C Members feel that there should be a way of dealing with technologies only available on RAND terms within the W3C Process, at least on an exceptional basis. This issue remains a focus of continued discussion.

There also remain questions about how the terms of the royalty-free license as defined in this policy will interact with various Open Source licenses. Though the Patent Policy Working Group believes that the RF license as proposed is compatible with most major Open Source licenses, there are still questions about interaction with the GPL. The Patent Policy Working Group is working toward resolution of GPL-related issues.

Before the patent policy is finalized, at least one more public draft will be released for review this year. Following the normal W3C Process for approving technical Recommendations, after the publication and review period for a Last Call Working Draft, the Working Group plans to prepare a final draft (Proposed Recommendation) for W3C Advisory Committee Review, after which the Director will determine the final disposition of the policy.

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