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.

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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.

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Comments on “Apple Abuses Patent System Again To Obstruct W3C Open Standard”

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60 Comments
Jack Galt says:

Good for Apple.

“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.”

Apple is simply striving to realize their own rational self interest. If *more* companies did stuff like this, we’d have a much better internet than the statist-riddled government developed peice of junk that we have now.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Good for Apple.

There are trolls, and then there are trolls and then there are trolls who make no sense at all such as Jack Galt here. (And yes, I know where your user name comes from)

If you would care to explain in careful detail what you mean by a “much better internet” when this one seems to work beautifully.

And if you mention copyright, piracy and all that silliness Ayn Rand will likely puke her guts up in her grave.

Antony Norton (user link) says:

The whole point of a patent is to protect your technological development/idea from exploitation from others or forcing them to licence it from you.
It is commercial and legal, and a normal part of a technology company and their modus operandi. Some will choose to ignore patents, taking a commercial judgement that it will cost more to police than they may get as a return.
Just because W3C is open source it doesn’t compel Apple to volunteer it’s technology to it at all, particularly if it has already withdrawn from that particular group. W3C is working group to promote web standards, this means they don’t get to promote Apples technology or include it in those standards…
I might add, anyone can get a patent for novel work but it is always the policing of the patent that makes it effective.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

sorry, but the whole point of a patent is to get you to play the same game with the rest of us, ie. if you share your idea with us so we all can build on it later, we’ll hold off for a while on using it. It’s about fostering cooperation so everybody benefits.

When you turn it into a weapon, you’re subverting the whole game and nobody (not even you, really) benefits. If you’re going to play that way, you should just keep it a trade secret and leave the rest of us to do our thing without you.

Also, the W3C isn’t about open source. It’s about synchronizing the parts of the game so everybody can play by the same rules, like having html tags start with < and end with > so all browsers can interpret them properly and I don’t have to write the same webpage source differently for each browser.

Again, by cooperating in good faith, everybody benefits, from the companies that make browsers to the people who write websites to the people who read and post comments to websites (just to stick with the same set of W3C standards). When someone like Apple or Microsoft takes their ball and stalks home in a snit, the rest of us have to come up with another ball in order to continue playing.

p.s. If you can read techdirt on IE or Safari, you should be thinking about societal leaches when you read that MS or Apple are threatening the W3C with patents.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Patents are a problem today, there are so many that is getting difficult to not infringe or own anything,it creates an environment where the tragedy of the anti-commons becomes reality.

It doesn’t matter what one company suffers what it matters is what the environment they are in suffers, not one company, not two and certainly no small group, creation of wealth depends on production, production only happens if there is work done, limiting the field to only a few big players that have the power to stop everyone else shrinks the market instead of growing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Apple patents

Should Apple really just “give up” it’s touch patents which it has had for years just because W3C now wants to make it part of thier open web standards? Apple has been defending these patents all along and to claim anything else is just wrong. I generally agree with you on most issues but unfortunately here you are spinning the story rather than giving all the information.
Knowledge is power.

BillH says:

Re: Re: Apple patents

The four patents in question:

Patent 7,812,828 issued 10/12/2010 (Filing date: 2/22/2007)
Patent 13/163,624 issued on 10/13/2011 (Filing date: 6/17/2011)
Patent 13/163,626 issued on 10/13/2011 (Filing date: 6/17/2011)
The fourth patent has not yet been issued.

So at least one they had for over a year. And why did two only take 4 months to issue? Why did one take 30 months to issue?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Apple patents

Delays between filing an application and it issuing is not at all unusual. Some are handled relatively quickly, whereas others are not. It depends upon the number of applications that an examiner is handling.

I do not know if this is the case here, but whenenver a later filed application is closely related to a prior filed application, the majority of the relevant prior art has already been identified, so the process of identifying additional art related to the new application is significantly accelerated. This is in part one of the reasons why the time between filing and issuance of a later filed application can be shorter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Apple patents

No they should be doing what they are doing and others should be doing what they are doing and that is telling Apple to go pound sand, there are 2 opposed forces here and the market is always bigger than any one company.

That is why patents are bad they start to affect negatively the bigger market making it impossible for smaller players to get into the game legally. Of course there is a breaking point where people will start doing it illegally, then it is game over.

vancedecker (profile) says:

Ayn Rand once said "Check Your Premises"

Will this stop Libertarian Christian nut bags from quoting an avowed atheist as Free Market scripture?*

In the same sense, all the Limbaugh-Beck drone units are now telling us that the bank bailouts were not capitalism. So in effect, according to Rand, who died for our capitalist sins, we are absolved from the sin of TARP, which was caused by a sodomite Senator anyway. I mean nobody is perfect right?

So long and thanks for the worthless apology…without any punishment to deter them, the doctrine of Industry Self Regulation will mean many more TARPs and too-big-to-fails to come.

(*Greenspan was at one point an Ayn Rand disciple…for all you home skoolers out there)

TiagoTiago (profile) says:

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain"

If their products were good enough they could release all patents and source code into public domain and people would still send money their way. Acting like this is like saying “We know our shit sucks, but we’re gonna make sure no one can offer somthing better so you’re stuck with us, now give us your wallets and bend over bitches!!!”

Anonymous Coward says:

Everyone is forgetting history

This whole scenario is playing out like a bad re-run. Has everyone forgotten that back in the 90’s, Netscape was the one pulling this shit? Quote from Jim Barksdale circa 1998: “Standards are made by corporations, not committees.” (to roughly paraphrase). And we all know where Netscape ended up, after creating one godawful mess in the whole HTML standards world blink-blink-blink. This is why Apple must be opposed: even if they inevitably commit hari-kari, they will completely mess up the HTML standards world just like Netscape did.

Anonymous Coward says:

Business protection

Apple is doing this to protect a revenue stream. The more capable HTML 5 is, the fewer developers will need to put apps on the app store. That means fewer apps for Apple to get their 30% cut from. Makes perfect sense to me. Doesn’t mean I like it, but it is certainly 100% logically consistent with a publicly traded company.

John Nemesh (profile) says:

Say WHAT????

“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.”

In what world do you live in? Apple is only “well regarded” by SHEEP who don’t know any better! In REALITY, Apple has ALWAYS been anti-consumer, anti-open source, anti-standards (unless they OWN the standard! Look at Flash, WebM and DLNA among others), and will do and say ANYTHING to put more money in the company coffers!

Now that “His Holyness” (Jobs) is dead and buried, the shine is coming off Apple in a hurry, and the mass market is FINALLY waking up to the fact that Apple does NOT have their best interests in mind when crafting company and legal policy!

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