The World Wide Web Consortium seems poised to settle the debate over whether to allow companies to collect royalties on web standards that contain patented technology, with those supporting royalty-free licensing evidently on the winning side.
The organization yesterday issued a final call for comments on a proposed policy that would force all companies participating in standards work to disclose potential patent conflicts and to make those patent available for free license.
The call comes 13 months after a proposal that would have allowed licensing on a reasonable and non-discriminatory basis became the subject of heated debate, with thousands of developers calling for the proposal to be killed.
To achieve the goal of producing royalty-free specifications, all who participate in the development of W3C Recommendation must agree to license essential claims (that is, patents that block interoperability) on a royalty-free basis, the W3C said in a statement.
In addition, any party that sees the technical drafts of W3C working group activities is required to disclose possible patent infringements. The policy also includes a dispute resolution process in the case of applicable non-royalty-free patents being discovered.
The W3C said in such situations standards would have to be designed around the patent claims, challenging the validity of the patents, or transferring the standards work to a completely different organization that does allow RAND licensing terms.
When the W3C announced its plans to allow RAND licensing October 2001, it created a flood of complaints. The open-source software movement argued that RAND licensing would hamper the interoperability of the web and stifle free software development.
The process is now open for comments until December 31. The W3C anticipates the policy will advance to Proposed Recommendation status in March 2003, and will become a full policy in May 2003. As of Friday, no objections had been registered via official channels.