W3C unveils formal patent policy

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced Wednesday its formal policy for ensuring that key Web technologies, even if patented, are made available on a royalty-free basis.

In a statement, the consortium said that the W3C Patent Policy is designed to reduce the threat that key components of Web infrastructure may be covered by patents which block further development.

The policy states that:

– participants in the development of a W3C Recommendation must agree to license essential claims, such as those that block interoperability, on a royalty-free basis;

– under certain circumstances, Working Group participants may exclude specifically identified patent claims from the royalty-free commitment, but these exclusions must be made known shortly after publication of the first public Working Draft to avoid later problems with surprise patents;

– W3C members who have seen a technical draft of a standard must disclose their knowledge of any patents likely to be essential to the standard;

– an exception-handling process will deal with any patent claims not available with terms consistent with the W3C Patent Policy .

The policy formalizes a commitment to a royalty-free process which has driven the development of the Web since its beginning, according to W3C. The process has seen input from companies, researchers and independent developers which have created technical interoperability standards upon which a worldwide information infrastructure has been built, W3C said in the statement.

“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,” Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director, said in the statement.

Some concern has been raised that companies seeking royalty payments for their patented work – particularly in the area of Web services – may choose to bypass the W3C approval process and use another standards body such as the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).