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Saturday, July 09, 2011, 06:35 pm PT (09:35 pm ET)

Web consortium at odds with Apple over widget patents

The World Wide Web Consortium has issued a public call for prior art on Apple patents related to widgets that the company has refused to submit to a license-free standard.

Because the W3C requires its standards to be "royalty-free," it has hit a road block in its efforts to create a Widget Access Request Policy specification for web apps, as noted by Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents. Apple is asserting two patents that it believes apply to the specification, choosing not to submit them to the group under a royalty-free licensing policy.

Though Apple is a member of the W3C, which is made up of hundreds of major technology companies, it still maintains the right to choose whether its intellectual property is included in a standard. The impasse began in 2009 when Apple first opposed the Widgets standard with a patent for automatic software updates.

With the Cupertino, Calif., company unwilling to budge, the W3C turned to its members for help on Friday by putting a call out for prior art that could invalidate the patents. The group referenced patent application 11/432,295, which describes a widget security system.

In particular, the W3C is looking for "information about access control systems available before October 2005 and content distribution systems before April 2006 that offer a viable solution to the use of access requests policy in Widgets."

"The W3C hopes to do away with Apple's relevant patent and patent application," Mueller wrote. "It's an unpleasant situation for the W3C to have to confront one of its members, especially such a large and powerful one, but sometimes this can't be avoided."

Apple's actions have mystified fellow members of the W3C. "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," browser developer Opera wrote in 2009. "What are they up to exactly?"

Given the fact that Apple is engaged in numerous lawsuits with competitors, the company may be reluctant to give up patents it believes could provide leverage or defense.

Members of the consortium are also in disagreement over Google's proposal of the WebM video standard for acceptance as a W3C standard. Apple and others oppose the move and take issue with the search giant's claim.