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Industry group hones patent standards

The technologists who oversee the engineering of the Internet create a working group to clarify their current policy on including intellectual property in their standards.

The technologists who oversee the engineering of the Internet have created a working group to clarify their current policy on including intellectual property in their standards, signaling that they may be inclined to use more proprietary technology in the future.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) said the new IPR working group will tackle how patent, copyright and trademark claims affect the organization's ability to develop standards. The group hopes to publish a clarified policy on using technology that is patented and trademarked by January 2003.

For years, IETF snubbed proprietary software, but now it's making a transition to allowing it in certain cases.

Steve Bellovin, co-chair of the new working group, said the IETF is clarifying its current policy, partly because some members have been confused about when they can include proprietary technology in the standard-setting process.

"We just needed to clarify this," he said, adding that decisions about whether to change the policy would be made later.

The issue of proprietary technology is prompting other standards bodies to rethink the issue. For example, the World Wide Web Consortium is currently hammering out a policy that seeks, among other things, to encourage the inclusion of royalty-free technology in its Web standards and to prescribe guidelines when that's not possible.

Standards groups have run into several hurdles related to purported proprietary products they've chosen as, or incorporated into, their standards.

For example, Austin-based Forgent Networks, a video conferencing technology, two weeks ago laid claim to the technology behind the JPEG image format. And proponents of the MPEG-4 video delivery format wrangled for weeks with holders of patents on the underlying technology before agreeing to licensing terms.