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Apple, HP modify stance on patent plan

Apple Computer and Hewlett-Packard submit statements to the W3C, urging it not to adopt a policy that would permit the charging of royalties for technologies used in Web standards.

Apple Computer and Hewlett-Packard have both submitted statements to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) urging the organization not to adopt a policy that would permit the charging of royalties for technologies used in approved standards.

The W3C works with developers and others to come up with standards. It has been considering whether to adopt a new policy that would allow companies to patent technologies used in standards, and then charge royalties for using those technologies.

Representatives from both HP and Apple are listed among the authors of the proposal, and both companies are members of the working group discussing the issue. Microsoft representatives also cooperated in the first draft of the plan. But HP and Apple said this week that after further consideration, they will be urging the group to modify its stance when it meets next week to further review the issue. Microsoft representatives were not immediately available for comment.

"Hewlett-Packard Company opposes the adoption of the proposed W3C Patent Policy Framework in its current form and recommends that it be replaced by a policy with the goal of producing W3C standards that are all royalty free," Jim Bell, director of standards and industry initiatives for HP, wrote in a comment on the W3C site Thursday.

The current policy allows for two different approaches to patents. Companies can either offer them "royalty-free" to all users, or on a "reasonable and nondiscriminatory" (RAND) licensing program.

"The intent of Apple's current statement is to refocus the W3C patent policy efforts on the goal of creating royalty-free and available Web standards," according to a statement issued by Apple on Friday.

"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," the Apple statement reads.

The proposal was published in August, and triggered a firestorm of controversy when articles were published about it on sites that favor the open-source and free software movements.

Critics charge that allowing companies to charge fees to use standardized technology will discourage innovation and create a legal nightmare for software developers building new systems using the standards.

Danny Weitzner, domain leader for technology and society and chair of the patent policy working group at the W3C, said the original policy was always intended to draw comment, but said the consortium was somewhat surprised by the volume of responses. More than 2,000 comments have been made to the public lists maintained by the W3C.

"I can't tell you how, but I would be shocked if (the policy) doesn't change," he said. "It seems to me that there's no way to look at this huge outpouring of very heartfelt comment" and not respond.

Weitzner said the consortium is working on summarizing all of the comments and will release the summary as soon as it's completed.