Congratulations to the W3C Patent Policy Working Group, W3C Membership, and W3C leadership for the landmark achievement represented by final approval of the W3C Patent Policy. The policy governs the handling of patents in the process of producing Web standards; its goal is to assure "that Recommendations produced under this policy can be implemented on a Royalty-Free (RF) basis. Subject to the conditions of the policy, W3C will not approve a Recommendation if it is aware that Essential Claims exist which are not available on Royalty-Free terms. To this end, Working Group charters will include a reference to this policy and a requirement that specifications produced by the Working Group will be implementable on an RF basis, to the best ability of the Working Group and the Consortium. 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."
A published statement from W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee notes that the W3C Patent Policy "coincides almost exactly with the tenth anniversary of CERN's decision to provide unencumbered access to the basic Web protocols and software developed there, even before the creation of W3C... The Patent Policy represents what may be the most thorough effort to date in defining a basic patent policy for standard-setting [and] sets the benchmark for the pragmatic way to successfully develop royalty-free Web Standards in the current patent environment."
The W3C Patent Policy Working Group (PPWG) "is part of the W3C Technology and Society Domain; its mission is to advise W3C on the means to address the growing challenge that patent claims pose to the development of open standards for the Web."
The W3C patent policy document of May 20, 2003 describes: "(1) licensing goals for W3C Recommendations; (2) licensing obligations that Working Group participants will undertake as a condition of Working Group participation, along with means of excluding specific patents from those obligations; (3) the definition of a W3C Royalty-Free license; (4) disclosure rules for W3C Members; (5) an exception handling process for situations in which the Royalty-Free status of a specification comes under question; (6) definition of Essential Claims."
Director's Decision, W3C Patent Policy
W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee has provided an "Overview and Public Summary" for the W3C Patent Policy. Excerpts:
"Based on overwhelming support of the W3C Membership, consensus in the Patent Policy Working Group and support from interested members of the public, I have determined that the proposed Royalty-Free Patent Policy should become the Patent Policy for W3C. The Policy affirms and strengthens the basic business model that has driven innovation on the Web from its inception. The availability of an interoperable, unencumbered Web infrastructure provides an expanding foundation for innovative applications, profitable commerce, and the free flow of information and ideas on a commercial and non-commercial basis..."
"Many participants in the original development of the Web knew that they might have sought patents on the work they contributed to W3C, and that they might have tried to secure exclusive access to these innovations or charge licensing fees for their use. However, those who contributed to 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."
"This decision on the W3C Patent Policy coincides almost exactly with the tenth anniversary of CERN's decision to provide unencumbered access to the basic Web protocols and software developed there, even before the creation of W3C. In fact, the success of technical work at the World Wide Web Consortium depended significantly on that decision by CERN. The decision to base the Web on royalty-free standards from the beginning has been vital to its success until now. The open platform of royalty-free standards enabled software companies to profit by selling new products with powerful features, enabled e-commerce companies to profit from services that on this foundation, and brought social benefits in the non-commercial realm beyond simple economic valuation. By adopting this Patent Policy with its commitment to royalty-free standards for the future, we are laying the foundation for another decade of technical innovation, economic growth, and social advancement."
"There is strong support within the Membership and Web community-at-large to adopt this policy. The total number of Members supporting the policy is very high (higher than any technical Recommendation recently adopted) and public support for the royalty-free goal of the policy has been significant. Based on changes made to the policy in response to earlier comments, the Advisory Committee review indicates that the overall level of support has increased in the last year. What's more, we should be pleased that the Patent Policy Working Group (PPWG) recommended the policy in its current form (but for some minor changes) without formal objection from the very diverse membership in that Working Group."
"This policy discourages revenue generation strategies that work by forcing standards-compliant applications to pay licensing fees. While the policy necessarily involved choices that could be perceived as threatening certain business models, I believe that this policy is the right one, from a revenue perspective, for all who seek to contribute to the development of the Web and who ultimately seek to profit from its growth. However, it does not preclude licensing activity for all technologies on the Web. Indeed, by supporting the continued growth of the underlying Web infrastructure and by growing the overall market for the Web, this policy increases the opportunity for financial gain (including from patent licenses) on applications that depend upon the Web. My hope is that those Members who have expressed opposition to the policy until now will find that it is still in their interest to participate in the growth of the Web. We will certainly work to be sure that this policy is implemented in a manner that is fair to all."
W3C Patent Policy. W3C Policy. Edited by Daniel J. Weitzner (W3C/MIT) for the W3C Patent Policy Working Group. 20-May-2003. Version URL: http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-Policy-20030520.html. Latest version URL: http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-Policy. Previous version URL: http://www.w3.org/TR/2003/WD-patent-policy-20030319/.
From the W3C Announcement
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 W3C Technology and Society Domain
"Working at the intersection of Web technology and public policy, the Technology and Society Domain's goal is to augment existing Web infrastructure with building blocks that assist in addressing critical public policy issues affecting the Web... Technical building blocks available across the Web are a necessary, though not by themselves sufficient to ensure that the Web is able to respond to fundamental public policy challenges such as privacy, security, and intellectual property questions. Policy-aware Web technology is essential in order to help users preserve control over complex policy choices in the global, trans-jurisdictional legal environment of the Web. At the same time, technology design alone cannot and should not be offered as substitutes for basic public policy decisions that must be made in the relevant political fora around the world."
- Announcement: "World Wide Web Consortium Approves Patent Policy. W3C Members, Director Establish Policy for Encouraging Royalty-Free Web Standards."
- Director's Decision, W3C Patent Policy. Comments from Tim Berners-Lee.
- W3C Patent Policy. W3C Policy. 20-May-2003.
- W3C Patent Policy Overview. References to implementation material and other informative documents. [in preparation 2003-05-20]
- W3C Patent Policy Working Group Public Home Page
- W3C Technology and Society Domain
- Mail Archives for public list 'www-patentpolicy-comment'
- Errata in W3C Patent Policy
- Translations of W3C Patent Policy. See Translations at W3C.
- [Historic] Statement Concerning CERN W3 Software Release into Public Domain. April 30, 1993.
- See also: Overview and Summary of W3C Royalty-Free Patent Policy. 19-March-2003. Edited by Daniel J. Weitzner (W3C/MIT) and Ian Jacobs (W3C). This [non-normative] summary covers the AC & Public Review Draft of 19-March-2003.
- "W3C Makes Patent Ban Final." By Paul Festa and Lisa M. Bowman. In CNET News.com (May 21, 2003).
- "W3C Announces Royalty-Free Patent Policy." By Edd Dumbill. From xmlhack.com (May 21, 2003).
- See earlier: W3C Releases Proposed Royalty-Free Patent Policy for Review." News story 2003-03-19 covering the March 19, 2003 review draft.
- "Patents and Open Standards" - Main topical reference page.