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W3C extends patent plan comment time

The World Wide Web Consortium says it has extended the public comment period for a controversial proposal involving patenting rights to published standards.

The World Wide Web Consortium said Tuesday that it extended the public comment period for a controversial proposal involving patenting rights to technology behind published standards.

The W3C works with developers, software makers and others to create standards for the Web. To date, either those standards have not been based on patented technology, or the holders of patents have chosen to not enforce patents in order that the standards be widely adopted.

But a new proposal would allow companies to enforce patents and charge royalties for technologies used in W3C standards, providing that they agree to certain rules and charge the fees in a "nondiscriminatory" manner.

The new proposal was published for review in August, and the W3C had held a public comment period through Sept. 30. But it did not receive much attention from the developer community until late last month, after articles about the proposal were posted on open source-friendly sites.

The result was a deluge of comments on the W3C site. As of Tuesday morning, 996 comments had been posted on the site, all but 16 of which were dated Sept. 30 or later.

The W3C said it would extend the comment period through Oct. 11, "in response to requests from the public and W3C Member organizations."

The working group discussing the issue will meet Oct. 15. A final decision is expected by February 2002.

Gartner analyst Kathy Harris says it's a mistake to allow the use of patented technology in standards.

see commentary

In a statement published on the W3C site, the consortium also attempted to answer some of the criticism of the new policy--namely, that allowing companies to enforce patented technologies involved in standards would stymie development.

"W3C recognizes that a royalty-free environment was essential to the growth of the Web, and the contributions of the open-source developer community have been critical to its success," the consortium statement said. "W3C also recognizes that software patents exist (and patent issues have become more prevalent with the growth of the Web), and ignoring them will do more harm than good.

"W3C is working hard to reach consensus in an area where there is an obvious tension, and to strike a balance among diverse interests."

Rather than stymie growth, the consortium said that it expects that the new policy would "allow a working group...to work around a perceived patent obstacle, or to abandon work entirely if perceived to be too encumbered by patents."