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Apple delaying web standard with patent royalty claim

post #1 of 124
Thread Starter 
Often touting web standards itself, Apple is being accused of holding back an important web specification by demanding royalty payments on a patent for updates.

The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, has notified members that Apple believes the new W3C Widgets standard might use technology in a US patent it owns for automatic software updates. According to the Cupertino, Calif.-based electronics maker, the Widgets standard's approach of checking for new versions and then updating over the web mimics a similar technique in its own 1998 filing.

As a result, Apple believes that it's owed royalties for implementations that include the update feature. It's here, however, that the dispute arises. Under the W3C's membership policies, those within the standards group -- including Apple -- are required to offer their patents royalty-free, which the company has so far refused to do, according to the report.

The impasse has lasted for roughly a month and has led the W3C to start an investigation through a Patent Advisory Group just to check if Apple's claims are accurate. With Apple declining to budge, fellow W3C participants like browser developer Opera are increasingly worried that the Widgets standard may have to be delayed to alter code in a way that avoids treading on the automatic update patent.

"This basically means a lot of additional work for the Working Group at the W3C, and might slow down the process of finalizing the widgets specification," Opera wrote on Tuesday. "What are they up to exactly?"

The roadblock is appearing at an unusual and partly self-contradictory time for Apple. Just days before its patent dispute with the W3C began, the company released a beta of Safari 4 for whom a key objective was keeping up to multiple new web standards, including the core HTML 5.0 and CSS 3.0 specifications that should represent the future of web design.

However this cooperation on web standards or the Patent Advisory Group might unfold, Apple itself isn't saying; the firm has so far remained silent on the matter.
post #2 of 124
This seems awfully trifling and somewhat pathetic on Apple's part as the patent was described. I wonder if Apple isn't really holding out to get leeway in some other patent issue that the W3C holds, basically offering a trade of patent tech.
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post #3 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

This seems awfully trifling and somewhat pathetic on Apple's part as the patent was described. I wonder if Apple isn't really holding out to get leeway in some other patent issue that the W3C holds, basically offering a trade of patent tech.

The W3C doesn't hold patents. Its a standards organization. Software patents are evil.
post #4 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Under the W3C's membership policies, those within the standards group -- including Apple -- are required to offer their patents royalty-free, which the company has so far refused to do, according to the report.

Somehow I don't think we are getting the full story. Apple's membership in the W3C's consortium does not give the consortium unlimited access to every patent that Apple holds. How did the widget process start and evolve, I am not familiar with it, but that seems to be where the issue lies.

What if the group wants to wander into mobile device browser based UI's, and since Apple is a member, they make a clone of the iPhone experience. Should Apple just hand over the patents, shut up and play nice because they are members of the consortium?
post #5 of 124
The question that must be asked though is: is Apple more known for their bargaining or their being painfully stubborn?

I'd say the later. Apple may just think that the widget setup is key and thus want to make money out of it.
post #6 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kresh View Post

Somehow I don't think we are getting the full story. Apple's membership in the W3C's consortium does not give the consortium unlimited access to every patent that Apple holds. How did the widget process start and evolve, I am not familiar with it, but that seems to be where the issue lies.

What if the group wants to wander into mobile device browser based UI's, and since Apple is a member, they make a clone of the iPhone experience. Should Apple just hand over the patents, shut up and play nice because they are members of the consortium?

http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-...ec-Obligations

"As a condition of participating in a Working Group, each participant [..] shall agree to make available [..] any [patent or patent application] related to the work of that particular Working Group." (modified for clarity)

This would only apply if Apple were a member of the WebApps working group.
post #7 of 124
Kresh, it might just be patents in regards to Web Technologies, but I think you are right. We don't have the full story.
post #8 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by jocknerd View Post

The W3C doesn't hold patents. Its a standards organization. Software patents are evil.

All patents are evil. They've held rapid progress back since their inception. And for what, for the benefit of corporations? So they can milk their customers for a decade?
post #9 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by eAi View Post

http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-...ec-Obligations

"As a condition of participating in a Working Group, each participant [..] shall agree to make available [..] any [patent or patent application] related to the work of that particular Working Group." (modified for clarity)

This would only apply if Apple were a member of the Widgets working group.

It appears that the patents must be offered to be included in the standard, and if included they must be royalty free. Did Apple offer the patent, or did the group implement a process which Apple declared infringement on a patent they have not offered to the group?
post #10 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

All patents are evil. They've held rapid progress back since their inception. And for what, for the benefit of corporations? So they can milk their customers for a decade?

"All patents are evil."

I LOL'd hard at that. Thanks.
post #11 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

All patents are evil. They've held rapid progress back since their inception. And for what, for the benefit of corporations? So they can milk their customers for a decade?

Not exactly, if there is no patent, what is stopping company A from doing an exact copy of Company B. Would you love to see all the money you spend on R&D ended up being copied by another company? I don't think so. And without patent, give me reason why would company innovate if their innovation ended up being copied within a period of time.
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post #12 of 124
I think what happened here is Apple vs Apple.

Someone submitted the Widget standards, including the automatic update, and someone else at Apple (probably a lawyer) noticed it and stopped it due to Apple having a patent on it.

So, if Apple gives up the patent, will they lose more to competition than they would gain by offering it to the WC3 standards body? Now Apple has an internal argument on it's hands. They can't license it for free to the WC3 because they won't allow it.

Frustrating to say the least.
post #13 of 124
Read the article again: Apple has worked very hard to make sure that their automatic update procedure secure, both in the sense that it is private, and in the sense that it works dependably.

I can see them offering patent-license to the W3C for a lot of things - but I can't see them giving away trusted access to the heart of their system. Secure software distribution is arguably more important to Apple than widget updates are to the W3C and I can understand them not wanting to go through reinventing that particular wheel simply to avoid inconveniencing the consortium. Given all the open-source love in the world, there's no reason for apple to give this particular kitten away.
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post #14 of 124
Truth be told, I am disappointed with Apple.
I am disappointed with their hardware, I am disappointed with their pricing, I am disappointed with their emphasis on gadgetry and now this.
post #15 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

All patents are evil.

Not exactly
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

They've held rapid progress back since their inception.

That last bit there is completely untrue. Ingenuity ebbs and flows: the US Patent Office nearly shut down in 1844, when it was widely believed that human invention had exhausted itself...and that no more real progress could be expected.

Since then, human invention and ingenuity have exploded - and more than once, and in more than one area. Patents were in place the whole time. Show me where that has hurt us.

As for SOFTWARE patents - they have a sketchier history; even so, Apple suffered badly from its failure to protect its IP in the 70s, and one thing we have consistently seen since the return of The Steve is an aggressive stance toward infringements on their IP, both in devices and equipment, and in the famous look-&-feel issues - OS X in particular.
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post #16 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Capt. Obvious View Post

Read the article again: Apple has worked very hard to make sure that their automatic update procedure secure, both in the sense that it is private, and in the sense that it works dependably.

I can see them offering patent-license to the W3C for a lot of things - but I can't see them giving away trusted access to the heart of their system. Secure software distribution is arguably more important to Apple than widget updates are to the W3C and I can understand them not wanting to go through reinventing that particular wheel simply to avoid inconveniencing the consortium. Given all the open-source love in the world, there's no reason for apple to give this particular kitten away.

It's got absolutely nothing to do with how any existing system Apple has is implemented, it's about the theoretical way you can implement an update system. This is all described in the patent itself, so there's no issue of secrecy.

Anyone with some basic knowledge of programming and cryptography can write a secure update system, they could still infringe Apple's patent without knowing it.

That's really where the patent system falls appart a bit - when the same thing is invented indepdendently by two different people. It wasn't designed to limit that but it does, and sadly, anyone can say "I didn't know someone else had invented that!"
post #17 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by eAi View Post

It's got absolutely nothing to do with how any existing system Apple has is implemented, it's about the theoretical way you can implement an update system. This is all described in the patent itself, so there's no issue of secrecy.

Anyone with some basic knowledge of programming and cryptography can write a secure update system, they could still infringe Apple's patent without knowing it.

That's really where the patent system falls appart a bit - when the same thing is invented indepdendently by two different people. It wasn't designed to limit that but it does, and sadly, anyone can say "I didn't know someone else had invented that!"

Patents were designed to prevent that second person from marketing their device if they "invented" something after the patent was issued, or, now, applied for.

That;s the whole point.

I don't agree with Kim either here.

Patents have made progress possible. Without patents, progress would have stalled. It's a lot cheaper to just rip off someone else's work than to spend the time and money to come up with something better.

I also don't think that software patents are bad. I do think that they should hold for a shorter time. It seems to me that the software industry turns over in about seven years.

My proposal is that software patents last for that amount of time, seven years. Seven years seems like a long time, but it's not. It would be long enough for people and companies to benefit from it, and short enough so that it wouldn't strangle the industry.

It's only fair that those doing inventing in either hardware or software get a head start on making money from it. most licensing fees, and royalties, are reasonable.

The fact that some don't want to pay for them doesn't make them unreasonable.

And I've never understood the idea that for my business, I do all the work, and spend all the money, and you get it for free to make money from. Where's the right in that? That's just as bad as the patent trolls.
post #18 of 124
I would assume they are referring to patents that are filed and created while working on a particular technology for the WC3... Any company is allowed to patent their technology, but must make it freely available to the WC3 group. If one of the companies in the group creates a technology that impedes on another's patent that was created outside the group, I would think that other company has an obligation to protect its technology.

I seriously doubt ANY company would join any group that forced them to forfeit to ALL their patents for the sake of the group. Sounds a bit cultish, eh? It also sounds like the group is overstepping their bounds, but like others have said, we don't really know the full story.

Also, I find it funny that people are so quick to jump all over Apple on this, especially given Apple's history and contributions to web development. This is obviously a different issue, otherwise, Apple would've been fine with it. But of course, everyone likes a scandal, so they tend to create one where there isn't. I suppose this is a site for speculation, so I guess it is okay to be prejudice?
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post #19 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nano_tube View Post

Truth be told, I am disappointed with Apple.
I am disappointed with their hardware, I am disappointed with their pricing, I am disappointed with their emphasis on gadgetry and now this.

So which alternative would you prefer?
post #20 of 124
This is about as ridiculous as CompuServe wanting to collect royalties for GIF images.
post #21 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by CDonG4 View Post

This is about as ridiculous as CompuServe wanting to collect royalties for GIF images.

The only problem with that was it was tried after the cat got out of the bag.

If they exercised their rights from the beginning, then it wouldn't have been an issue.

This is what happens when companies try to be altruistic in the beginning and give away their inventions, only to find that others are incorporating them in products where they are making money from it.

They then feel as though they are being ripped off, and try to get something back. But, it's too late.

MP3's are licensed. It didn't stop that from being widely used. Same thing with JPEGs.
post #22 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by eAi View Post

http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-...ec-Obligations

"As a condition of participating in a Working Group, each participant [..] shall agree to make available [..] any [patent or patent application] related to the work of that particular Working Group." (modified for clarity)

This would only apply if Apple were a member of the WebApps working group.

I believe this relates to work done while developing the standards.
Apple's patent was from the 90's and was not done in conjunction with the W3C.
post #23 of 124
I believe the reason Apple is stalling is because the self updating widgets is what Palm's Pre is going to be based on. If Palm's Pre can update it's "apps/widgets" seamlessly over the web using Apple's patented technology, then Apple wants to get paid. I think Apple would prefer that Palm not have access to the tech at all and be able to keep it's own iPhone ahead.
post #24 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by melgross View Post

The only problem with that was it was tried after the cat got out of the bag.

If they exercised their rights from the beginning, then it wouldn't have been an issue.

This is what happens when companies try to be altruistic in the beginning and give away their inventions, only to find that others are incorporating them in products where they are making money from it.

They then feel as though they are being ripped off, and try to get something back. But, it's too late.

MP3's are licensed. It didn't stop that from being widely used. Same thing with JPEGs.

It appears that the W3C organization was formed in 1994, Apple apparently applied for the patent in 1998 and we don't know when it was granted. The question is, when did Apple join W3C. If its after they applied for their patent then W3C can't expect them to cough up access. On the other had if the Patent is going to expire in a year or two ...... it may be Apple is just trying to buy time for the final release of Safari or some other technology related to Snow Leopard.
post #25 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kresh View Post

It appears that the patents must be offered to be included in the standard, and if included they must be royalty free. Did Apple offer the patent, or did the group implement a process which Apple declared infringement on a patent they have not offered to the group?

I haven't read the entire W3C patent policy the previous poster linked to, but I don't read the section that was highlighted as saying that patents must be royalty free. I think the author of the story is mis-interpreting the policy (or is blindly regurgitating another article without verifying it himself).

Section 3.1 one reads: "As a condition of participating in a Working Group, each participant (W3C Members, W3C Team members, invited experts, and members of the public) shall agree to make available under W3C RF licensing requirements any Essential Claims related to the work of that particular Working Group. This requirement includes Essential Claims that the participant owns and any that the participant has the right to license without obligation of payment or other consideration to an unrelated third party..."

The part I bolded is confusing, but I read that the participant can't obligate royalty payments to an "unrelated third party" (ie, someone the participant is licensing the patent from).

Also, nobody seems to have noticed section 4.1: "Specific Essential Claims may be excluded from the W3C RF licensing requirements by a participant who seeks to remain in the Working Group only if that participant indicates its refusal to license specific claims no later than 150 days after the publication of the first public Working Draft [PROCESS, section 7.4.1] by specifically disclosing Essential Claims that will not be licensed on W3C RF terms. A participant who excludes Essential Claims may continue to participate in the Working Group."

This contradicts the authors statement that participants on the Working Group are required to offer up all of their patents. We don't know the timing related to the 150 day notification requirement, but I suspect that this is what Apple is doing. They are following the W3C policy for notification that they do not wish to allow them to use that patented technology.

It appears Apple is within the normal policies and procedures of the W3C. What probably happened is some member of the group was unhappy and so they leaked this non-news to make it look like Apple wasn't playing by the rules and to try and pressure Apple to change their mind.
post #26 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by macdanboy View Post

It appears that the W3C organization was formed in 1994, Apple apparently applied for the patent in 1998 and we don't know when it was granted. The question is, when did Apple join W3C. If its after they applied for their patent then W3C can't expect them to cough up access. On the other had if the Patent is going to expire in a year or two ...... it may be Apple is just trying to buy time for the final release of Safari or some other technology related to Snow Leopard.

Hard to say. If Apple received the patent in 1998, then it's got at least 9 more years of life left to it.

It's also possible, as has been stated here by Johnny, that only patents developed in relation to the work done by the organization are subject to this. If so, then, again, the patent may not be.

In addition, I don't see how an organization can decide which patents are required to be handed over. they can look at the patent portfolio of it's members, voluntary members by the way, and decide to develop tech based on patents owned. That would be reverse policy. Not basing work on patents being developed FOR the standard, which is the way it's done in the electronics industry, something I have knowledge of.

If so, then it's not proper. The group could simply decide which patents they want, and base work on them, claiming they must be handed over. I can't see the legal stance there. I also can't see any company agreeing to it.

Also, if Apple bowed out of the group, the group would have no recourse.
post #27 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

All patents are evil.

That is just wrong. The patent system is f-ed. It's the system. If a patent it stupid then it should be shown the door.
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post #28 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by macdanboy View Post

It appears that the W3C organization was formed in 1994, Apple apparently applied for the patent in 1998 and we don't know when it was granted. The question is, when did Apple join W3C. If its after they applied for their patent then W3C can't expect them to cough up access. On the other had if the Patent is going to expire in a year or two ...... it may be Apple is just trying to buy time for the final release of Safari or some other technology related to Snow Leopard.

I think people are missing the point of this rule that is in question.
IF companies A, B and C are part of the "Widget working group",
THEN company A, B or C can not claim ownership of technologies developed while working in the "Widget working group".

IF company A developed and patented "Widget" technology in 1998 prior to joining the "Widget working group"
THEN company A can claim ownership of technologies developed prior to working in the "Widget working group".

W3C would need to secure a license from company A for inclusion as part of the W3C standard.
post #29 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by jocknerd View Post

The W3C doesn't hold patents. Its a standards organization. Software patents are evil.

Don't they still need to patent their ideas to protect from others selling it or aspects if it as their own and so they have recourse to protect the standard from such action? For instance, doesn't Vesa have patents on DisplayPort despite it being open and free for all.
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post #30 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by solipsism View Post

Don't they still need to patent their ideas to protect from others selling it or aspects if it as their own and so they have recourse to protect the standard from such action? For instance, doesn't Vesa have patents on DisplayPort despite it being open and free for all.


no, because once the work is submitted to the working group it's considered prior art and any patent on it will be disqualified
post #31 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Mozzarella View Post

I think people are missing the point of this rule that is in question.
IF companies A, B and C are part of the "Widget working group",
THEN company A, B or C can not claim ownership of technologies developed while working in the "Widget working group".

Wrong. Companies get to make/claim and keep their own patents but have to license them for free.
"Under the W3C's membership policies, those within the standards group -- including Apple -- are required to offer their patents royalty-free, which the company has so far refused to do, according to the report."
post #32 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by al_bundy View Post

no, because once the work is submitted to the working group it's considered prior art and any patent on it will be disqualified

That's not quite right.

Patents can, and often are, issued to the group, or the individual members. Some patents that are already owned can be kept.

What has to be understood, is that despite these being "standards", they are not open. For something to be a standard, it must be protected from dilution by other entities.
post #33 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris_CA View Post

Wrong. Companies get to make/claim and keep their own patents but have to license them for free.
"Under the W3C's membership policies, those within the standards group -- including Apple -- are required to offer their patents royalty-free, which the company has so far refused to do, according to the report."

It's not that simple. First all participants must agree that any particular patent is includable. Working group or not, the law doesn't allow members to strip any owner of IP of their properly defined rights.

They can't just say, "That patent can be used by us for free.".
post #34 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris_CA View Post

Wrong. Companies get to make/claim and keep their own patents but have to license them for free.
"Under the W3C's membership policies, those within the standards group -- including Apple -- are required to offer their patents royalty-free, which the company has so far refused to do, according to the report."

People keep repeating that line, but I have yet to see anyone provide a link or reference to the W3C policy that states that. In fact, the reference I provided in a previous post, which was a direct quote from the W3C policy, contradicts the statement you quoted in your post.
post #35 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris_CA View Post

Wrong. Companies get to make/claim and keep their own patents but have to license them for free.
"Under the W3C's membership policies, those within the standards group -- including Apple -- are required to offer their patents royalty-free, which the company has so far refused to do, according to the report."

This would be true if Apple developed the widget technology while a member of the working group.


It is the same concept as an employee-employer relationship.
While working for a company, any patentable technology I develop is owned by my employer.
But I don't loose my rights to patents I've secured prior to my employment with the company.
If the company wants to use those patents, they would need to secure licenses for them.
post #36 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

All patents are evil. They've held rapid progress back since their inception. And for what, for the benefit of corporations? So they can milk their customers for a decade?

There are plenty of cases of patents that have enabled inventors to get something in exchange for their work. Also, companies have a right to make some money from their R&D without having somebody copy it. Imagine a world where iPhone knockoffs were just as good as the original. If that happened, companies like Apple could not survive.

Having said that, most software patents are evil, because they are baseless, poorly defined, make overbroad claims, etc. Also, software advances so quickly that standard patent periods (17 years) in effect stifle innovation. To the extent that software could be patented reasonably, the patent period should be no more than five years.

The problem is that the patent process is so slow, that this would be unworkable. Also, a much higher bar needs to be set to grant software patents. Overall, I'd say software should not be patentable. Copyright law provides enough protection.
post #37 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

All patents are evil. They've held rapid progress back since their inception. And for what, for the benefit of corporations? So they can milk their customers for a decade?

The patent system isn't perfect but it is far from evil. More so the patent system often protect the individual inventory of an item sometimes from those big corporations that you seem to think are the only ones benefiting from the patent system.

The patent system has taken some wrong turns with respect to the software industry as there is no reasonable stretch that one can make that anything is "Invented" with respect to software. Especially considering that algorithms supposedly can't be patented. However the regressions with respect to software should not be used to condem patenting concrete inventions.

The patent system really does level the playing field with respect to the individual inventor. It provides for a way to assure profits, given the management ability, for one inventive efforts. That actually stimulates invention and the economy. Look back into the early industrial age and the invention of the various steam engines. Patented engines actually encouraged the development of alternative designs. The same thing is happening today in the medical industry and the electronics industry.

Yeah many times that means another device that does the same thing as the patented one but via different means. In a way though that is innovation. Further the process of finding alternative solutions often opens up the flood gates to solutions to other problems.

Just imagine what the electronics and computer industry would be like if patents on CMOS technology didn't exist. It is very doubtful we would have innovated to the point we are today as quick as we have. There would simply have been no incentive to do so if you couldn't profit from the tech you have developed.

Simply put patents are not evil but the system is not perfect either. A lot of good has come out of the system often in a way that has benefitted the small time inventor. Yeah sometimes big corporations benefit too just realize it isn't always the case.


Dave
post #38 of 124
Looks like a lot of people are missing something important:

Apple's patent is a SOFTWARE PATENT.

Software patents are evil.

Patents in general are not necessarily evil, but software patents are.
post #39 of 124
This is tough for Apple because it sounds like they got caught in a situation where way back when (actually not to long ago in terms of years), they couldn't foresee that one tech that they patented would be used in the way the W3C now wants to use it. I'm wondering if by licensing it, they can restrict its use only to ways that it won't compete with Apple (outside of browser use).

Software patents are pretty much evil.

The problem with them is that new technology comes out, and people can land-grab the patents without really protecting anything significant. Someone comes along much later and develops something, completely unaware of the patent, and the patent owner can wait until that latter product is successful and then sue for boatloads of money.

As a software developer, you have a really hard time learning everything you need to, plus creating everything you need to, and with software patents, that's not good enough. You then need to deal with all of the legal issues. Of course, lawyers aren't developers, so you end up with two fields that require massive amounts of study that have nothing in common with each other, trying to figure out what can and can't be done.

And in the end, software patents don't protect real innovation from being stolen.
post #40 of 124
Quote:
Originally Posted by kresh View Post

Somehow I don't think we are getting the full story. Apple's membership in the W3C's consortium does not give the consortium unlimited access to every patent that Apple holds.

No one claimed that it did. But this patent has gotten in the way of an open web standard. Other members companies in the W3C recognize the value of open standards, and have issued royalty-free licenses.

Quote:
What if the group wants to wander into mobile device browser based UI's, and since Apple is a member, they make a clone of the iPhone experience.

That is not what a web standard does. W3C doesn't make user interface. It creates specifications for technologies used to build stuff. You could build a UI using open standards, but no open standard would be an actual implementation of a UI.
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