Los Angeles, CA — The Web Standards Project, an international coalition of Web developers, called on Microsoft Corp. and the World Wide Web Consortium to clarify whether a recent Microsoft patent gives the company control over two key Web standards developed by W3C.
U.S. Patent No. 5860073 appears to include key concepts used in W3C’s Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and eXtensible Style Language (XSL) standards, which could potentially require these currently-open standards to be licensed from Microsoft.
If the CSS and XSL standards are in fact covered by the patent, WSP believes Microsoft, which participated in W3C’s development of these standards, should immediately take legal steps to ensure these Web standards remain openly available on a nondiscriminatory basis, assuming that it has not already done so.
This could include turning over the patent to W3C, or other legal licensing agreements that irrevocably protect these open standards, WSP also called on any other companies that may be pursuing other patents that affect W3C standards to take similar measures.
The patent application was filed in 1995 as the W3C deliberations on the CSS standards began. While Microsoft representatives to W3C may have been unaware of the patent effort, the patent application itself refers to W3C’s efforts, which WSP believes means that Microsoft as an applicant was aware of the issue and should have disclosed its patent effort to W3C.
“W3C’s standards committees should be able to make an informed decision about whether to include something in a standard that may be covered by a patent — particularly if the patent is held by one of W3C members helping develop that standard,” said WSP Project Leader George Olsen said.
By contrast, Intermind Corp, which also is a W3C member, reportedly kept W3C informed about its effort to patent a technology it believed affected a Web standard under development. (Intermind claims its U.S. Patent No. 5862325, granted last month, covers W3C’s proposed Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) standard.)
WSP also questioned whether Microsoft’s patent on “style sheets” should have been granted because are a number of prior examples of similar technology, including the original proposal for CSS.
Microsoft’s patent claims its innovation is to apply style sheets to text on-the-fly when the document is displayed on a user’s computer. However, that same technology has been used on several different batch pagination systems, dating back to the 1960s, which have been used for book, directory and database publishing.
WSP Steering Committee member Tim Bray himself helped build an application that used technology that is similar to what Microsoft’s patent describes.
“Back in 1987-88 I helped build a style sheet-driven browser (the chief author was Darrell Raymond) that became a commercial product of Open Text Corporation in 1989,” Bray said. “It did several things that the Microsoft patent seems to cover. I’m confident that Microsoft will do the right thing and simply ignore the existence of this patent.”