Apple believes it has a patent that could potentially throw a wrench into an effort to develop a Web standard for updating widgets.
Last month Apple disclosed the patent (No. 5,764,992) to the W3C Web Applications Working Group, which is trying to come up with a standard entitled "Widgets 1.0: Updates," as spotted by MacNN. Apple's patent is for "A software program running on a computer automatically replaces itself with a newer version in a completely automated fashion, without interruption of its primary function, and in a manner that is completely transparent to the user of the computer," according to the abstract on the patent.
When companies participate in a W3C standards-setting process, they must agree to disclose relevant patents and license any "essential claims" related to those standards to the group free from royalties. This is a good thing; just ask anyone involved in the DRAM standards-setting process in the 1990s.
But a member can choose to exclude "essential claims" on which they have a patent from that royalty-free licensing requirement so long as they do so within 150 days of the publication of the first working draft for that standard. At that point, a Patent Advisory Group is formed to study the claims of the patent and the proposed standard, which can recommend that the working group design around the claims or find a way to license those claims, among other things.
It's a little hard to tell at the moment exactly what claims overlap between Apple's patent and the proposed standard, and why Apple is choosing to exert its right to contest the royalty-free licensing terms for those claims. An Apple representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Apple is the only company in the Web Applications Working Group that has requested an exclusion for one of its patents. But there is a lot of interest among mobile computing companies in widgets as a way to provide cool features without putting a strain on a smartphone or handheld computer.