by Mike Masnick
Thu, Mar 12th 2009 11:45pm
The idea of standardization around certain technologies makes some amount of sense. Once a standard is set at a lower level, it opens up plenty of innovation opportunities above that standard. However, in the past few years, we've seen a pretty massive problem with the combination of standards and patents. Basically, everyone starts looking for ways to somehow connect a patent to a standard -- but they often try to hide the details so that, once the standard is set, they can start demanding everyone pay up for patent infringement. This is even more likely when companies come up with an agreement to pool patents in a royalty-free manner for the sake of the patent. Companies try to keep their patents out so they can later demand money. It's way too common these days. The latest to do this appears to be Apple, who withheld a key patent on technology for online "widgets", which has recently been standardized. The standard was set by the W3C, who asked for companies to commit their patents royalty-free in order to move the standard forward so that everyone could benefit. Instead, Apple held out a key patent, and can now start demanding people pay up. On the whole, Apple hasn't been that aggressive in enforcing its patents, and hopefully that doesn't change now -- but it does show once again how important patents have become in the standards setting process, and how much trouble they can cause.
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