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W3C debate invites open-source views

The World Wide Web Consortium beckons representatives from the open-source and free-software communities to join a working group on the use of patents in industry standards.

The World Wide Web Consortium has invited representatives from the open-source and free-software communities to join a working group debating the use of patents in industry standards.

The W3C is charged with developing industry standards for Web technologies. It's been debating a new policy that would allow the use of patented technologies in those standards and permit the companies that hold the patents to charge royalties for their use.

The proposal has met with harsh criticism, particularly from supporters of open-source software development and free software. They say that allowing companies to charge royalties will stymie innovation and create significant legal hurdles for developers.

Eben Moglen, general counsel for the Free Software Foundation, and Bruce Perens, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative, will join the working group charged with developing the policy, W3C officials said Monday. Moglen and Perens "will participate equally with the W3C members in the group and will share completely in the decision-making and consensus-building process," Danny Weitzner, working group chair, said in an e-mail.

The W3C also promised not to finalize the policy before putting out another public draft for comment.

The working group is meeting this week to discuss the issue, and there have been signs that there may be a shift in direction. Last week, Apple Computer and Hewlett-Packard, both of whom are members of the working group, submitted statements urging the organization to reconsider the idea.

A final proposal is expected in February.