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W3C launches appeal to scupper Apple patent

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The W3C, custodians of web standards, have launched an appeal for prior art to contest an Apple patent that appears to cover any kind of automated updating procedure, including the Widget standard on which the group is working.

The patent, filed in 1995 and awarded in 1998, and which Apple revealed to the W3C in March, covers an application contacting a central server to see if a new version is available, and downloading the replacement if it is. As such it would appear to cover most of the automated updating systems commonly in use today, though the W3C is most concerned with the impact it's going to have on the forthcoming widget standards.

US patent number 5,764,992 is entitled "Method and apparatus for automatic software replacement" and explicitly states steps for updating software including:

  • detecting whether a version of the program is stored in the designated location;
  • determining whether a detected version of the program stored at the designated location is more recent than the current version of the program which is running;
  • replacing the current version of the program with a more recent version that is stored at the designated location; and
  • subsequently executing the more recent version of the program on the computer.

Which seems pretty comprehensive to us, and it's hard to see any reason why such a patent wouldn't also cover Windows Update, Firefox or any of the myriad of automatic-update systems in use today.

W3C isn't concerned about those, of course, the group is just trying to get a decent standard together for widgets - AJAX-powered applications cached locally but hosted remotely, which will certainly want to check for updates each time they are run. Thus the search for prior art, which is looking for anything that existed before June 1995 and could be used to remotely update a widget, or invalidate Apple's patent. ®

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