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Apple Computer's Statement on the Draft W3C Patent Policy

Apple Computer's Statement on the Draft W3C Patent Policy
After careful consideration of the draft patent policy, Apple believes that it is essential to continued interoperability and development of the Web that fundamental W3C standards be available on a royalty-free basis. In line with the W3C’s mission to “lead the Web to its full potential,” Apple supports a W3C patent policy with an immutable commitment to royalty-free licensing for fundamental Web standards. Apple offers this statement in support of its position.

The promise of the Web is a common framework for exchange of information, with open access for a diverse pool of developers and users. Realization of this promise demands a licensing model that is likewise open and unencumbered by private rights. We believe that W3C membership should involve not only collaboration to develop standards, but also collaboration to ensure that those standards are, in fact, open and available to diverse users without charge.

At the same time, the corporate, governmental, institutional, and individual entities that support Web standardization by contributing and considering technology for adoption as a standard have legitimate interests in protecting — through intellectual property rights — the fruits of their own investments in technology. A patent policy that requires intellectual property rights owners to commit their valuable intellectual property in advance and without exception would undoubtedly discourage participation in the W3C.
  To balance these conflicting interests, Apple believes that W3C should promulgate only royalty-free standards, but should permit individual members to identify and exclude specific patents that they are not willing to license on a royalty-free basis. To accomplish this, a W3C member would be required to disclose and license to any practitioner all essential patents of a W3C standard. To exclude a patent from this royalty-free license, a W3C member could, on a case-by-case basis, notify a particular working group that it has patent rights that it believes are essential to that working group’s recommendation, and that it is unwilling to license on a royalty-free basis. The working group must then steer its recommendation clear of any known unavailable patent rights. If this cannot be accomplished, that working group might need to cease standardization activities in its particular area. This opt-out mechanism would allow an entity to preserve its intellectual property rights, but only by removing it from the realm of open Web standards. In order to proliferate royalty-free Web standards, a member’s obligation to license essential patents could be conditioned on the grant of a reciprocal royalty-free license by any practitioner.

While the current draft patent policy does state a “preference” for royalty-free standards, the ready availability of a RAND option presents too easy an alternative for owners of intellectual property who may seek to use the standardization process to control access to fundamental Web standards. A mandatory royalty-free requirement for all adopted standards will avoid this result.

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