November 7, 2002 7:37 AM PST

Firm changes mind on SOAP patent

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Patent issues could stymie Web standard

November 6, 2002
Portal software maker Epicentric has changed its stance regarding a patent on a key Web services standard, paving the way for its approval.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a standards body that oversees some Internet protocols, is nearing approval on Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) 1.2, one of the four key Web services specifications.

Along with Extensible Markup Language

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(XML), SOAP makes Web services possible by essentially allowing different programs running on different computers to communicate with one another. Many industry observers trace the beginning of the Web services movement to the introduction of SOAP 1.1 in May 2000. The W3C has been working on the follow-up to the initial specification for about two years and has been close to the final stages. But patent issues could have held up the process.

Both Epicentric, a subsidiary of Vignette, and WebMethods, which makes integration software, said in earlier statements that they may have patents that cover the technology used in the SOAP 1.2 specification and that they would only make those technologies available on a "reasonable and non-discriminatory" (RAND) basis. That means that the companies could charge royalties to developers who use SOAP 1.2 and possibly subsequent versions of the specification.

The W3C, however, does not have authorization to include RAND technologies, instead requiring that any technology used be available royalty free.

An Epicentric representative said the company will be amending its stance, saying that it no longer believes it has related patents and that, regardless, it believes the technologies should be available on a royalty-free basis.

"Epicentric as a whole believes that for standards to succeed, all participants should offer any patented technology in the standard on a royalty-free basis. And at this time, Epicentric is amending our statement via W3C to be royalty free," the representative said.

WebMethods representatives could not be reached for comment.


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