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W3C sidesteps Apple over widget-patent

Nimble footwork could dodge legal elephant trap

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The W3C has spent the last three months poring over Apple's patent on remote updating, and the web standards organization thinks the patent can be avoided by careful wording and tweaking a couple of APIs.

Apple revealed its patent in March this year, throwing the W3C's attempts to create a standard for widgets into confusion and driving the organisation to launch an appeal for prior art, but now the Patent Advisory Group (PAG) has recommended that by making a couple of changes to the text, the Apple patent can be avoided entirely.

The process patented relates to the updating of widgets, or anything else. Apple's US patent number 5,764,992 covers software which is capable of updating itself with a more-recent version available from a remote server. At first glance, this might seem to cover any update mechanism, but the Patent Advisory Group set up by the W3C noticed that Apple's patent specifically covers software that can update itself, while widgets are reliant on a server which lets them know if they need to be updated.

So the API widgetupdate changes to updateinfo, widget.update() becomes checkForUpdate and update becomes updatedescription. That, along with a few textual changes, makes it explicit that widgets speak to a specially-designed server, thus bypassing Apple's patent which only covers applications capable of standing alone.

The wide scale support of the mobile industry for the OMTP's BONDI widget platform shows there's real enthusiasm for standardised AJAX-based applets, and the standard that can now be developed should be good for everyone - except Apple of course.

Apple participated in the first call set up by the PAG, but didn't attend subsequent meetings and at the time of writing hasn't responded to our enquiries into the matter. ®

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