The W3C is developing a proposal for a "Patent Policy Framework" that would permit the standards body to endorse standards that use patented technology, and in turn allow the patent holder to issue RAND licences to use the standard.
Critics of the W3C draft proposal have argued that by endorsing patented technology, the W3C would be granting the patent holder a virtual monopoly over the standard's use and would also give that holder the ability to put the squeeze on competitors, small businesses and the open-source community.
The W3C set up a Patent Policy Working Group (PPWG) to advise on the best course of action for dealing with patent claims and the resulting issues for the development of open standards for the Web. The PPWG had set a deadline of 11 October to allow for public comment on the Patent Policy Framework.
Authors of the Patent Policy Framework proposal include representatives from HP, Apple, Microsoft and Philips, as well as the proposal's editor, Daniel Weitzner.
The same companies also have representatives on the PPWG discussing the issue, along with representatives from W3C and IBM, Sun Microsystems, Nortel Networks and Reuters, according to the W3C.
Last week, both Apple and HP said that they had reconsidered the issue and would be pushing the group to change its position on RAND licences.
Apple noted that: "While the current draft patent policy does state a "preference" for royalty-free standards, the ready availability of a RAND option presents too easy an alternative for owners of intellectual property who may seek to use the standardisation process to control access to fundamental Web standards. A mandatory royalty-free requirement for all adopted standards will avoid this result."
Jim Bell, HP's director of standards and industry initiatives also wrote:"Hewlett-Packard opposes the adoption of the proposed W3C Patent Policy Framework in its current form and recommends that it be replaced by a policy with the goal of producing W3C standards that are all royalty-free."
The W3C has invited Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation and Bruce Perens, the co-founder of the Open Source Initiative to join the Patent Policy Working Group as "invited experts", in an effort to improve communication between the open source and independent developer community and W3C.
Weitzner will also host public discussions of the issues brought up by the PPWG at several forums, including the XML 2001 Summit scheduled for 28 October to 30 October.
The W3C is expected to make a final decision in February 2002.