Apple Abuses Patent System Again To Obstruct W3C Open Standard
from the getting-to-be-a-habit dept
Apple has been garnering quite a reputation for itself as a patent bully, for example using patents around the world in an attempt to stop Samsung competing in the tablet market, and bolstering patent trolls. But that’s not enough for the company, it seems: now it wants to use patents to block open standards.
As befits an organization that seeks to promote the Web, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has a clear policy on the use of patents in its standards:
In order to promote the widest adoption of Web standards, W3C seeks to issue Recommendations that can be implemented on a Royalty-Free (RF) basis. Subject to the conditions of this policy, W3C will not approve a Recommendation if it is aware that Essential Claims exist which are not available on Royalty-Free terms.
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.
That’s to ensure that no company has a stranglehold over a W3C standard that it can use to extract a monopoly rent from the implementations, and to create a level playing field so that all companies can compete fairly.
Clearly, Apple’s not happy with that approach, since it has just disclosed some patents that may be relevant to a new open standard the W3C is working on. Opera Software’s Haavard Moen explains the significance of the move:
This time they have four claims – three patents and one patent application – that threaten to block the W3C Touch Events Specification. They filed their patent claims a little over a month before the time limit expired (the claim was filed on November 11, and the time limit is December 26, 2011).
The odd thing is that Apple chose not to join the working group that handles touch events. If they had joined, they would have been forced to file the patent claims far sooner. So now we know why they didn’t join. What we don’t know is why Apple insists on waiting almost until the last minute before filing its patent claims.
As Moen points out, this is not the first time Apple has pulled this trick of disclosing patents at the last moment, and throwing a spanner in the W3C’s machinery. This suggests that it doesn’t have a problem with the specific W3C open standard, but with open standards in general.
Moreover, there are serious knock-on effects for the whole of W3C:
What makes this matter even worse is that this doesn’t just affect these specific standards. The Patent Advisory Groups could in fact slow down the development of other standards by pulling people from other projects in order to investigate these claims. The investigation can take several months, and will take time, resources and money to complete.
That’s time, resources and money that could have been spent on improving various other work-in-progress standards.
You would have thought that a company as successful and generally admired as Apple would go out of its way to be helpful to these industry efforts to bring open standards to the Web for the benefit of users. Sadly, it seems to take the view that the only thing that matters is preserving its own power and profit, and that one way to do that is to stop the spread of open standards that give everyone an equal chance in emerging markets. The only consolation is that Apple’s latest move adds to the evidence that patents today are more about stifling the competition than promoting innovation.