The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will unveil a formal policy "very shortly" for dealing with technology patents that have the potential to block the development of interoperable web standards.
Director Tim Berners-Lee declined to disclose details of the patent policy.
Daniel Weitzner, chairman of W3C's patent policy working group, said the policy drafted by the group reflected the "overwhelming goal" of producing standards that can be implemented royalty-free. But the group also included an exception provision that would make it possible for members to consider alternative licensing terms if it were deemed impossible to meet the royalty-free goal, he added.
Weitzner said the provision reflected a desire for flexibility as well as the group's attempt to acknowledge the concerns of those who favour a so-called reasonable and non-discriminatory model permitting the collection of patent licensing fees.
The need to establish a formal policy became apparent as some patent holders started to assert claims to technology being used as part of proposed web standards.
The W3C's patent policy also became a hot topic of discussion among some W3C members who have speculated why IBM, Microsoft and other vendors have been submitting some key Web services standards proposals to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) instead of the W3C.
IBM and Microsoft insisted that their decision to propose a Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) specification within OASIS had nothing to do with patent issues - a claim they backed up when they submitted BPEL to OASIS under royalty-free terms. The companies said they chose Oasis because they felt it was the more appropriate standards body for high-level business specifications.
Karla Norsworthy, director of dynamic e-business technologies at IBM, said IBM's intention in the core web services space is to submit only proposals for which it would provide a royalty-free licence, since there's a need for broad adoption of web services standards.
However, she added that she could see a need for the exception provision in the patent policy proposed by the W3C to allow a working group to decide to publish a specification, even if a patent claim is raised.
"I think the W3C is being practical in allowing a specification to go forward and working out the [intellectual property] from some third party as they go," she added.
Don Deutsch, vice president of standards strategy at Oracle, said the provision was a last-minute compromise designed to address the concerns of IBM and Microsoft. Deutsch added that he expected it to be approved.