Apple Patent Could Delay W3C's Widget Update Spec [UPDATED]

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which develops interoperable technologies for Web usage, has created a specification for Widgets Updates that could be delayed by a patent Apple filed in 1995. As a result, the W3C is putting together a Patent Advisory Group (PAG) so that member companies can figure out if Apple's patent claim applies to the specification.

Apple's patent is number 5,764,992: "Method and apparatus for automatic software replacement." In other words, it covers automatic software updates, something that the W3C has included in its Widgets Updates specification. The W3C defines Widgets thus: "Widgets are small client-side Web applications for displaying and updating remote data, that are packaged in a way to allow a single download and installation on a client machine, mobile phone, or mobile Internet device."

An Opera Software employee speculated in his blog that Apple's actions have caused "a lot of additional work for the Working Group at the W3C, and might slow down the process of finalizing the widgets specification." In addition, he said, the PAG means "that several companies are forced to spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out if Apple's patent claim actually applies, and if it does, what to do about it."

Apple is a member of the W3C, as are more than 400 companies around the world, both large and small. A post on the W3C's mailing list from last month notes: "The W3C Team, in conjunction with the Chairs and Apple, are now following the procedures for launching and operating a Patent Advisory Group (PAG)." No further posts were made in the thread, but its author, Doug Schepers, responded to a request for comment with this statement, reprinted in its entirety:

"We are indeed forming a Widget Updates PAG, but it has not yet had its first meeting.  Apple has not been actively participating in the Widgets work, but they (and many other companies) are contributing to the specifications in the WebApps Working Group, and they have not excluded any patents on any other WebApps deliverable.  Like any other W3C Member, Apple is free to decline granting a royalty-free license on any patents where they don't see a benefit, and I speculate that they may not see such benefit in the Web-based Widgets work, since they have their own widgets framework at the OS level.

"The main goal of the PAG is to make sure that the Widgets Update spec doesn't infringe on that particular patent.  Hopefully, we can find a quick way to move forward on the Widgets work without stepping on their toes, and in that way, the PAG will be counted as a success."