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Wednesday, April 08, 2009, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Apple delaying web standard with patent royalty claim

Often touting web standards itself, Apple is being accused of holding back an important web specification by demanding royalty payments on a patent for updates.

The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, has notified members that Apple believes the new W3C Widgets standard might use technology in a US patent it owns for automatic software updates. According to the Cupertino, Calif.-based electronics maker, the Widgets standard's approach of checking for new versions and then updating over the web mimics a similar technique in its own 1998 filing.

As a result, Apple believes that it's owed royalties for implementations that include the update feature. It's here, however, that the dispute arises. Under the W3C's membership policies, those within the standards group — including Apple — are required to offer their patents royalty-free, which the company has so far refused to do, according to the report.

The impasse has lasted for roughly a month and has led the W3C to start an investigation through a Patent Advisory Group just to check if Apple's claims are accurate. With Apple declining to budge, fellow W3C participants like browser developer Opera are increasingly worried that the Widgets standard may have to be delayed to alter code in a way that avoids treading on the automatic update patent.

"This basically means a lot of additional work for the Working Group at the W3C, and might slow down the process of finalizing the widgets specification," Opera wrote on Tuesday. "What are they up to exactly?"

The roadblock is appearing at an unusual and partly self-contradictory time for Apple. Just days before its patent dispute with the W3C began, the company released a beta of Safari 4 for whom a key objective was keeping up to multiple new web standards, including the core HTML 5.0 and CSS 3.0 specifications that should represent the future of web design.

However this cooperation on web standards or the Patent Advisory Group might unfold, Apple itself isn't saying; the firm has so far remained silent on the matter.