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IBM patent plan royalty-free

Big Blue says it will not seek royalties on a patented e-commerce Web standard that helps companies in many industries communicate over the Internet.

IBM on Thursday said it will not seek royalties on patented technology that is part of an e-commerce Web standard.

At issue is a Web standard called Electronic Business XML, or ebXML, which allows companies in many industries to communicate over the Web. It was a standard created by a United Nations organization and by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, a consortium of tech companies that includes IBM, Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems and Hewlett-Packard.

IBM's patent claim came to light as part of an intellectual property disclosure filed with OASIS in late March.

An IBM representative on Thursday said the company owns one patent in the ebXML standard and has another patent pending. But the company has decided not to charge royalties on the patents.

"We are making this at zero cost," the IBM representative said. "OASIS policy requires companies to disclose patents. IBM followed the OASIS procedure."

An OASIS representative could not be reached for comment.

ebXML was designed to make it easier for companies in common industries to communicate and as a potential replacement for older, more expensive data-exchange technology called Electronic Data Interchange. But the adoption of the standard has so far been lukewarm, said analyst Mike Gilpin of Giga Information Group.

Over the past half year, the industry has debated over whether companies should be allowed to charge royalties on technologies used in standards. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), for example, retreated from a proposal that would have allowed companies to claim patent rights and demand royalties for technologies used in its standards. A final ruling on the matter is expected later this year. W3C standards have not been based on patented technology, or the holders of the patents have chosen not to enforce patents to allow the standards to be widely adopted.

Opponents of the proposal to charge "reasonable and nondiscriminatory," or RAND, royalties argue that it would put too much power in the hands of large software companies that are heavily involved in creating standards and would force users of standards containing patented technology to pay royalties to patent holders. They contend technology used in standards should be made free from patent royalties.

IBM was among the companies that were on the W3C working group that created the W3C proposal to allow companies to charge royalties on its patents. An IBM executive last fall said the company has historically worked in both royalty-free and RAND environments, and chooses to use one or the other on a case-by-case basis, depending on the technologies.