Patent threat to W3C's RDF technology

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Edd Dumbill

Edd Dumbill
Jan. 02, 2002 10:14 AM

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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 explicitly.

The company in question is Vancouver-based Unified Data Technologies, Ltd., holders of U.S. Patents #5,684,985 and #6,092,077.

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.

Edd Dumbill is co-chair of the O'Reilly Open Source Convention. He is also chair of the XTech web technology conference. Edd conceived and developed Expectnation, a hosted service for organizing and producing conferences. Edd has also been Managing Editor for, a Debian developer, and GNOME contributor. He writes a blog called Behind the Times.