A dispute has erupted between Microsoft and various Internet advocates over a new patent that appears to give Big Green control over two key Internet standards.
The Web Standards Project (WSP), which is an organisation set up to promote the use of Internet standards, has asked Microsoft to clarify whether its US Patent No 5860073 covers key concepts taken from two World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and the eXtensible Style Language (XSL).
The body said in a statement: "If the CSS and XSL standards are in fact covered by the patent, WSP believes that Microsoft, which participated in the W3C?s development of these standards, should immediately take legal steps to ensure these Web standards remain openly available on a nondiscriminatory basis."
But George Olsen, project leader for the Web Standards Group (WSG), explained: "Our concern is that these people are getting patents for some fundamental parts of the Web. This is not about Microsoft per se. We have concerns about every private company holding a patent to what is supposed to be an open standard. We would like to see this issue cleared up."
But he added that Microsoft should have disclosed to the W3C that it was applying for a patent when it became involved in the standards process.
Dan Crouse, corporate attorney at Microsoft, admitted that Big Green did not disclose such information at the time, however.
"It is our corporate policy not to discuss patent applications. In general with W3C submissions, we will include a legend that says if this gets adopted as a recommendation or a standard, we agree to license any patents that may be relevant on a royalty free basis," he said.
But he would not discuss whether or not the disputed patent covered parts of the CSS and XSL standards.
"It should not be relevant because we do not intend to charge royalties. We?re going to let everyone use this without a royalty. We feel that not only have we done the right thing in this particular case, but we hope other W3C members will do the same," he claimed.
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