Patent threat to W3C's RDF technology

by Edd Dumbill

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Applications that use Resource Description Framework (RDF), a W3C technology based on XML, are under threat from patent claims. Such applications potentially include the popular Mozilla browser and any program processing RSS files.

Uche Ogbuji, one of the authors of Fourthought's popular Python/XML processing software, reports receiving a letter from a law firm claiming that software which processed RDF or RSS may be covered under one of their clients' patents. It did not, he notes, reference the names of his software

The company in question is Vancouver-based Unified Data Technologies, Ltd., holders of U.S. Patents #5,684,985 and

Dan Brickley of the W3C confirmed
that Ogbuji was not alone in receiving such communications from the law firm in question.

The W3C's Ralph Swick urged
members of the RDF Interest mailing list to remain calm
: "Until some representative of a patent holder gets
more specific about precisely what claims they believe
might be infringed, we're wasting our time with any worrying."

Indeed, initial reaction from various RDF experts on the
list indicates that they are confident of the
existence of prior art that would render an infringement
claim invalid.

Further information is available in two press releases
from PEARL, a patent enforcement company:

This is not the first time that the W3C has faced such
claims, having spent an extensive amount of time investigating the claims over their P3P technology by Intermind in 1999. More recently, there was much controversy
over the W3C's new proposed patent policy, which resulted in increased public dialog and a revision of the W3C's approach to patents held by member companies.

Is this another one-off, or symptomatic of a more systemic threat to the implementation of open standards?