MS Wins Patent for Web Standard
by Chris Oakes
2:05 p.m. 4.Feb.99.PST
Microsoft has been awarded a patent that could give the company control
over important open standards used in the construction of Web sites.
Web developers are concerned that the patent, awarded to Redmond last
month by the US Patent and Trademark Office, could threaten the progress
of related Web-site design standards. Microsoft says it will allow broad
and open licensing of the stylesheets technology.
"The patent office should reexamine the patent, because we believe they
ignored a number of examples of prior art," said George Olsen, project
leader for the Web Standards Project.
"You can't patent an innovation after the fact."
Developers fear the patent could undermine the success of the standard and
thwart the promise that it holds for site development.
The Web Standards Project, comprised of independent developers, may ask
the patent office to rescind the patent -- Style Sheets for Publishing
System -- from Microsoft.
Olsen's group is also appealing to Microsoft to turn over the patent
rights to the World Wide Web Consortium. The W3C has actively promoted the
use of stylesheets on the Web since 1994.
Whether the Web Standards Project tries to block Microsoft depends on
whether the patent influences Web stylesheet standards. It also wants to
determine when Microsoft first notified the W3C of its application.
The patent, issued to Microsoft on 12 January, covers the use of
stylesheets in electronic publishing.
This issue isn't Microsoft, per se, Olsen said.
"We'd be opposed to any private company holding control over an open
standard," he said. "There are inherent conflicts of interest there when
you're asking a company to license this open standard to potential
competitors. The best way we see to resolve that situation is to hand over
that license to [the consortium]."
Representatives from the World Wide Web Consortium could not be reached