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W3C rejects net patent tax, avoids web schism

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The web standards consortium W3C has agreed on a policy that should prevent nasty royalty surprises for developers in the future.

The latest draft from the W3C's patent policy group stipulates that participants must agree to license patents on a royalty-free basis. W3C-blessed web standards have always been royalty-free, but last year the W3C countenanced a twin-track approach, adding RAND licensing as an option.

It met with a fierce response from software libre developers, with talk of creating a breakaway organization that could set royalty-free standards. Developers are reluctant to start work on a technology with the threat of possible lawsuits and fees hanging over them, and for GPL developers it's a no-no: the license forbids developers from working with encumbered technology.

The new draft, which had input from the FSF's Eben Moglen and Bruce Perens, should avert a schism by eliminating the RAND track altogether. So there's no way that a technology could begin life as a royalty-free license then switch to a fee-bearing license during the ratification process.

The W3C allows patent holders to "retain defensive use of their patents". The W3C expects this to be ratified by next May. ®

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