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Apple Patent Claim Threatens To Block Or Delay W3C 332

Posted by timothy
from the broad-patents-big-problems dept.
Kelson writes "The W3C Widget specification is running into a problem: Apple claims a patent on automatic updates and is unwilling to license it royalty-free in the event that it impacts the spec. The W3C is investigating to determine whether the spec includes anything covered by the patent, and decide what to do."
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Apple Patent Claim Threatens To Block Or Delay W3C

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  • Oh, Apple (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cormophyte (1318065) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:21PM (#27492025)

    I hope this is a legitimate claim, or I'll have to start hating you, too.

    • Re:Oh, Apple (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sweatyboatman (457800) <sweatyboatman&hotmail,com> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:25PM (#27492081) Homepage Journal

      it's a software patent.

      start hating.

      • Re:Oh, Apple (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Shrike82 (1471633) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:27PM (#27492141)
        Worse, it's a patent on a ridiculously general software concept.

        I can't stand these kinds of patents, especially when they block progress and innovation.
        • ... and in a manner that is completely transparent to the user of the computer.

          In my book that means: no need for a restart. Completely different from what i.E. FireFox / Thunderbird and the like do - needing to ask the user to stop with his / her work in order to perform the update.

          Not trivial.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by geoffrobinson (109879)

            Not trivial to implement. Is the concept itself worth a patent?

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Your.Master (1088569)

              Patents don't cover concepts. They only cover implementations. So the question is moot.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by mweather (1089505)
                You don't have to implement an idea to patent it. In fact, you can't patent an implementation of a concept, only the concept itself. Copyright covers specific implementations.
                • by Your.Master (1088569) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:09PM (#27493901)

                  No, copyright covers expressions. Patent covers inventions. Nothing covers concepts.

                  A large part of the problem here is that in software, the line between concept and implementation is blurred. But let's make an analogy to mechanics:

                  If you have a sandwich making machine patented, somebody can't just make a sandwich machine out of a different material without your permission. But they can still make a sandwich machine, so long as it doesn't stomp on the specific claims of the patent. The concept "sandwich machine" isn't protected, only doing a sandwich machine via a certain method.

                  You're right that you don't have to implement an idea to patent it. But your patent still only covers such an implementation, even if it's never done.

                  • This is the nature of the problem.

                    You don't have inventions in software. You have ideas, and implementations. There is no in-between.

                    The idea of patenting a software algorithm is equivalent to patenting a mathematical expression.

                  • by Cyclops (1852) <rms.1407@org> on Wednesday April 08, 2009 @02:26AM (#27500407) Homepage

                    What you write in software is the expression of one idea in a certain language.

                    You don't "invent" software, software has been invented many eons ago when living beings got brains.

                    What software patents cover is the concept. If they covered a specific implementation, they would provide a worse legal environment than the copyright, in the point of view of the authors, for it would last many, many years less.

                    And as anyone who wrote software can tell you, ideas are a dime a dozen, the devil is in the details. It's the expression that counts in software, and not the concept.

              • by Anonymous Psychopath (18031) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:58PM (#27493737) Homepage

                Patents don't cover concepts. They only cover implementations. So the question is moot.

                Close. Patents aren't supposed to cover concepts. Rampant abuse of the patent system has been a problem in this area for some time now.

          • by ColdWetDog (752185) * on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:55PM (#27492681) Homepage

            ... and in a manner that is completely transparent to the user of the computer.

            And in a manner that Apple doesn't use. Software updates on OS X always ask the user. And depending on what it's updating, you may have to restart a program or reboot. The patent (from 1995) is pretty clear that it has to be completely transparent to the user which implies not only no reboot, but no notification. Anybody tries that on my machine gets the software booted off right quickly.

            • Someone from Apple scene does use that concept. Intego Netupdate. It has a preference to automatically install and reboot after updates, without even asking to user. Thank God, it is disabled by default.

              In fact, it performs exactly the way patent says. You may even be greeted by "Enter serial number you purchased while you upgrade your software" message.

              Apple being victim of their stupid lawyers as usual, not even surprised. They should separate RIAA/MPAA iTunes types from the Technical types.

              What if MS ste

          • by Shrike82 (1471633) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:56PM (#27492693)
            Well yeah, but it's still a very general concept that's been patented. I have nothing against patents; I just object to this kind. Personally I feel it's an abuse of the patent system, just like these moronic patent troll companies that do nothing except file patents (no development or practical invention) and expect free money when their idea becomes practical or mainstream.

            Yeah, I'm a grumpy old man...what of it...
            • I know. I have not seen a valid software patent. This one is almost impossible to implement. Apart from Web-2 applications. And this is probably why it popped up.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Raenex (947668)

                I know. I have not seen a valid software patent.

                RSA seems worthy. That's the only one I've ever come across.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by falconwolf (725481)

                  I know. I have not seen a valid software patent.

                  RSA seems worthy. That's the only one I've ever come across.

                  RSA may be worthy, but of a copyright not a patent. No software should be patented.

                  Falcon

            • by Locutus (9039)

              They learned from the US banking system that you can make lots of money from nothing( or maybe they learned from Microsoft ) and if you get out before it all collapses, you walk away filthy rich.

              They learned they can purchase patents, pay some lawyers to write up threats, tie them up in the court system and eventually milk a steady stream of income from those they attack. Easy money while it lasts and these people have no concept of what's right or wrong. It's what they can get away with and how much they c

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Firehed (942385)

            Wait, what? Reading the patent excerpt suggests that this is no different than doing <script src="http://some.external.site/latest.js"</script>. Or just visiting ANY web app, for that matter - except when dealing with Flash Player, I'm automatically using the latest version of the site without any need to update things at my end.

            It would be one thing if any Apple software actually DID this sort of automatic, transparent updating - including their own Dashboard Widgets. If anyone can point me to an

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by DustyShadow (691635)

              Wait, what? Reading the patent excerpt suggests that this is no different than doing <script src="http://some.external.site/latest.js"</script>. Or just visiting ANY web app, for that matter - except when dealing with Flash Player, I'm automatically using the latest version of the site without any need to update things at my end.

              Did you read the claims? Cause that's all that matters. The abstract and spec do not define the invention (with a couple minor exceptions). (Disclaimer: I haven't read the patent)

          • by sweatyboatman (457800) <sweatyboatman&hotmail,com> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:05PM (#27492855) Homepage Journal

            this patent is total BS!

            the patent description makes it sound like we're talking about a system for automatically updating any program while its running without any interruption (which would be quite a feat if accomplished, but still not worthy of a process patent because its an obvious goal).

            However the operation the patent actually describes is as follows:

            1) I click on an icon to launch an application,
            2) a process starts that checks to see if I have the latest version of the application
            2a) if I have the latest, it launches the application
            2b) if I don't have the latest, it replaces my copy with the latest and the launches the application

            this stuff about "transparently running" and "no need for restart" is a red herring. of course there's no need for restart, the program isn't running yet!

            • by c0d3g33k (102699)

              What you describe is reminescent of what Java Webstart has been able to do for quite a few years, though the granularity is a bit finer. Instead of "latest version of application" as a monolithic whole, you get transparent updates to component libraries (in the form of jar files). Of course since the old + new libraries act as an integrated whole, the update does represent the "latest version of the application". If the patent consists of this it's entirely unremarkable.

            • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @03:12PM (#27494851) Journal

              What's funny is that the steps that you've outlined seem to describe exactly how Microsoft's ClickOnce [wikipedia.org] works when it comes to updates. So if Apple threatens to sue, it would seem that there is at least one large player interested in opposing them on this.

          • Not trivial.

            Maybe. But that doesn't mean it was not obvious.

          • Also not utilized by Apple. Apple has not released an update that I cn recall that didn't require stopping the program being updated (if not an full machine restart).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:25PM (#27492083)
      No, you won't. Steve will merely extend the reality distortion field to cover you as well. He might not be at the helm, but it is still his life energy that powers the RDF. That is why his health is failing. Keeping up good feelings about apple after all the various shit they have pulled with the iPhone has really taxed is ability to power the RDF. I hear they are looking for an alternate power source, ut its going about as well as their search for an alternate supply of PPC chips went a few years back
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Z00L00K (682162)

      Patent trolling as usual. Nothing new...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by rinoid (451982)

      Don't worry, the W3C takes over a decade to get a spec into a Recommendation ... by that time all the grey beards will have died off and this will have been surpassed by The Next Great Thing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:26PM (#27492123)

    FTFP:

    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.

    As long as the user is notified or must explicitly grant permission, the update process is not transparent to the user.

    Apple claims a patent on a stealth method.

    • "Apple claims a patent on a stealth method."

      Microsoft already own the portfolio on this nonsense!

    • by furby076 (1461805)
      Wait a moment...windows has been doing this for years. So do worms and other malicious content. I think whoever wrote the first computer worm should sue apple. But really - windows does do this (ever wake up to find your computer was reboot in the middle of the night for a windows update...making your open documents/websites go bye-bye)
      • Apparently you missed 'without interruption of its primary function' in the description.

        Most Windows updates only fulfill the 1st and 3rd criteria.

      • by Applekid (993327) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:50PM (#27492589)

        I think whoever wrote the first computer worm should sue apple

        How apt that a worm would ruin an apple. :)

      • But really - windows does do this (ever wake up to find your computer was reboot in the middle of the night for a windows update...making your open documents/websites go bye-bye)

        Windows reboots my laptop in the middle of the night, making my battery charge go bye-bye. Now I have a laptop with a drained battery at work, and a charger at home.
    • by mea37 (1201159)

      I think you're reading too much into that sentence. This is the flip side of the point that you don't patent "doing X", you patent "a method of doing X".

      Normally people miss that a patent doesn't cover "a differnt method of doing X".

      But in this case, you're suggesting that you can use the patented method, as long as you don't end up "doing X". IANAL, but I'll bet you're mistaken. If I write an update mechanism that follows Apple's design, and then somewhere along the way interrupt the user experience, I'

    • by dilute (74234)

      Here's a clue: "in a manner that is completely transparent" is NOT part of the claims. It is verbiage in the abstract and written description. Read the CLAIMS if you want a handle on what the patent actually covers.

  • by JO_DIE_THE_STAR_F*** (1163877) <jody29@g m a i l . com> on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:30PM (#27492191)
    I just posted this in the last story (Happy 40th Birthday, Internet RFCs)

    From the article [nytimes.com] "It probably helped that in those days we avoided patents and other restrictions; without any financial incentive to control the protocols, it was much easier to reach agreement." Exactly why patents don't work in their current form.

    Now it seems more appropriate for this story.

  • Prior art, obvious (Score:5, Informative)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:30PM (#27492197) Homepage

    *sigh* Patent 5155847 [uspto.gov], referenced in Apple's patent, covers everything Apple's does. The only differences are obvious minor adaptions based on the different communications channels in use, things any network programmer does automatically every day.

    • Let me quote the important and not at all minor difference:

      without interruption of its primary function, and in a manner that is completely transparent to the user of the computer

      Updating a running program without interruption is everything but trivial.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hazem (472289)

        Updating a running program without interruption is everything but trivial.

        It can be pretty easy. I helped write a database app where every time the menu form was invoked, it would check the back-end database to see what the "current" version of the front-end should be. If it wasn't the same, it would launch the new version and quietly kill itself.

        The user only experiences a slight delay that can not be differentiated from network congestion or heavy database load.

        The key here is that the app does the work

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        My Debian box's cron job that does "apt-get update;apt-get upgrade" every day has been this way for at least 8 years updates all my running programs transparent to me. I don't even notice they've changed until the next time I restart them.

      • by Todd Knarr (15451)

        Extremely non-trivial, yes, but not non-obvious. Once you understand how the OS in question handles program linking and loading, the process needed to replace a portion of a running executable is usually blatantly obvious. It's also pretty obvious what the one portion of the program that can't be updated without interruption is, and how to handle it. It took me all of 2 minutes to work out how to do it on Linux using the dlopen() function, and another couple of minutes to work out how to arrange the program

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by nog_lorp (896553)

        That is not one of the claims of the patent. That is part of the abstract, which has no direct bearing on what the patent actually applies to.

        If you read the claims, it amounts to "checking for an update at runtime, and updating without asking the users, then restarting the program".

    • by Shrike82 (1471633)
      Too late, the patent's been granted. Or can a patent be revoked? I didn't think they could.

      Whatever tiny tweak they've made (looks like it being "transparent to the user" from posts above) seems to have been enough to get the patent approved and now results in yet another patent troll scenario.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      *sigh* Patent 5155847 [uspto.gov], referenced in Apple's patent, covers everything Apple's does. The only differences are obvious minor adaptions based on the different communications channels in use, things any network programmer does automatically every day.

      You fail patent law 101.

      The reasons those references are there are to point out that yes, the filer knew about those inventions and yes, the filer believes that the new invention is sufficiently different to be patentable, and yes, Mr. Trammel, examiner of record, and Mr. Corcoran, assistant examiner, please do look over these other patents, because we are damned sure that our invention is sufficiently different from them that it is patentable, and we are not afraid to tell you about them.

      • by Todd Knarr (15451)

        The impression I get is more "We claim our patent's sufficiently different, so please don't bother looking over these other ones that we mention only to avoid getting nailed later for willful deception when one of our targets brings them up.". Having read the two patents, I fail to find any claims in Apple's that aren't covered in essentially the same form in the earlier patent, which I believe in patent law is exactly the definition of prior art.

  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:32PM (#27492223) Homepage Journal

    If you read this claim, it seems that any webpage loaded through a caching web-browser *could* fall under it.

    1. A method for automatically updating software programs on a computer, comprising the steps, of:

    storing an updated version of a program at a designated location in a remote memory that is accessible to the computer;

    Being that most browsers will check a cache to see if it already has your content, the act of overwriting the cache before loading the asset for your page seems to run afoul of this auto-update process.

  • Bunch of hypocrites (Score:4, Interesting)

    by _avs_007 (459738) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:33PM (#27492255)
    Apple is a member of the W3C, and even advertises on it's own web page (Click Here) [apple.com] that it supports an immutable commitment to royalty free licensing on W3C standards, per the W3C patent policy. Sounds like Apple is only interested in other companies licensing Royalty Free terms to them, but not the other way around....
    • by tb3 (313150) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:48PM (#27492557) Homepage

      Geez, did you even read that page?

      To accomplish this, a W3C member would be required to disclose and license to any practitioner all essential patents of a W3C standard. To exclude a patent from this royalty-free license, a W3C member could, on a case-by-case basis, notify a particular working group that it has patent rights that it believes are essential to that working group's recommendation, and that it is unwilling to license on a royalty-free basis.

      Which is exactly what they're doing. You can accuse them of being patent-trolls, and using vaguely-worded, over-generalized patents, but you can't say they're being hypocritical. They're behaving exactly as they promised they would.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sandbags (964742)

        Yes, exactly. Apple had this patent already. The W3C royalty free licence includes the NEW, currenlty unpatented technologies being rolled into the standard. Any company that has an existing patent that W3C tries to leverge a technology protected by has the right to notify the W3C and let them know they're infringing, and then decide wether or not to licence that technology to the group.

        Apple may very well want this technology to be a part of W3C, but if they don't want it to also become available royalt

  • by Mike1024 (184871) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:38PM (#27492377)

    The broadest claim the patent makes (bullet points mine):

    1. A method for automatically updating software programs on a computer, comprising the steps, of:

    • storing an updated version of a program at a designated location in a remote memory that is accessible to the computer;
    • launching a current version of the program that is stored in memory of the computer, wherein said current version carries out the following steps independent of functions performed by any resource external to said current version:
      • detecting whether a version of the program is stored in the designated location;
      • determining whether a detected version of the program stored at the designated location is more recent than the current version of the program which is running;
      • replacing the current version of the program with a more recent version that is stored at the designated location; and
      • subsequently executing the more recent version of the program on the computer.

    Could one not simply have the client software send a request to the server software saying "send me the stored version, if it is modified since version 12.34"

    Hence it would not be the current version carrying out the action of determining whether a the newest version of the program is more recent than the current version of the program; rather it would be being performed at the server.

    Indeed, HTTP already includes an "If-Modified-Since" header the client can send to the server, though the HTTP header uses a date rather than a version number.

  • by phobot (1521961) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:46PM (#27492515)
    It will be great if the W3C sort-a ban apple from using the HTTP and other W3C tech in OS X...when your the owner you can give and take permission whenever you like so...give em' a taste of they're own medicine. I'll die laughing if that happens!
  • by Qubit (100461) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @12:47PM (#27492529) Homepage Journal

    According to the Patent Advisory Group [w3.org] they've formed to deal with this hurdle, the PAG membership includes "Advisory Committee Representatives of each Member participating in the Web Applications Working Group".

    Of course, the Web Applications Working Group [w3.org] includes: "Apple, Inc. (4 representatives)".

    Isn't it kind of a conflict of interest for Apple to be sitting on the committee that has the purview to:

    • study the patent in question and discuss its impact on Widgets 1.0: Updates
    • seek prior art that may apply to the use of updates in Widgets
    • discuss ways to design around the claims excluded by Apple Inc.
    • explore ways to come to an agreement with Apple to continue work on Widgets 1.0 Updates as a Royalty-Free specification
    • write a PAG report with recommendations for the W3C Director

    ?

  • What's ironic, is this getting posted just after the story on the first RFC turning 40.

    What's "brassy" is the balls of the legal wingnuts at Apple fucking about with the advance of open standards.

    W3C should not be having to waste people's time picking through this patent and designing around it. The idea might have been mildly innovative in 1998, but now it's sorta "well-duh!" and I am sure has been implemented in a number of independent cases where there was no reliance on Apple's patent.

    P.S. Apple -

    • This is the third time I quote this:

      without interruption of its primary function, and in a manner that is completely transparent to the user of the computer

      I don't know of any application which can do that. With current operating systems almost impossible. But browser based applications are a different matter. Here it could work.

  • It shouldn't be possible to hold a patent on anything in a public standard.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:28PM (#27496079)
    I followed the link (not the one to the pathetic opinionated article, but the one to the short email message), and this is what seems to have happened: Apple told the W3C people that they have a patent that they believe might cover something that W3C is trying to standardize. So they have done exactly what Rambus _failed_ to do when they participated in memory standardisation, which since then has caused dozens of lawsuits over hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. This will not happen here because Apple disclosed their patent.

    That email doesn't say in any way that Apple is doing anything inappropriate or is threatening anyone or refusing to give anyone a license. What is happening is a very simple process that W3C is prepared for: Apple was kind enough to inform them that there is a patent, so they will now look at the patent, which will or will not turn out to be relevant, and if it is relevant, something will be sorted out.

    Now that fine article (or whatever the f in RTFA stands for) calls Apple "patent-lawsuit happy". So who exactly is Apple suing right now? Maybe the manufacturer of a new phone that is vastly outselling the iPhone, except that it doesn't do that quite yet, because it is not for sale right now, so not a single Palm Pre has been sold, and Apple hasn't sued them, because as long as Palm doesn't sell its phone there is nothing to sue them for?
  • After bricking unlocked iPhones, kicking applications off the iPhone store that might even slightly compete with iTunes in the far future, and filing a wave of patents on basic well-known computer science, Apple Inc. today filed a 10-Q with the Securities Exchange Commission declaring that it was openly adopting Evil(tm) [today.com] as a corporate policy.

    "Fuck it," said Steve Jobs to an audience of soul-mortgaged thralls, "we're evil. But our stuff is sooo good. You'll keep taking our abuse. You love it, you worm. Because our stuff is great. It's shiny and it works. It's not like you'll go back to a Windows Mobile phone. Ha! Ha!Ã

    Steve Ballmer of Microsoft was incensed at the news. "Our evil is better than anyone's evil! No-one sweats the details of evil like Microsoft! Where's your antitrust trial, you polo-necked bozo? We've worked hard on our evil! Our Zune's as evil as an iPod any day! I won't let my kids use a lesser evil! We're going to do an ad about that! I'll be in it! With Jerry Seinfeld! Beat that! Asshole."

    Sergey Brin of Google said, "Of course, we're still not evil. You can trust us on this. Every bit of data about you, your life and the house you live in is strictly a secret between you and our marketing department. But, hypothetically, if we were evil, it's not like you're going to use Windows Live Search. Ha! Ha! I'm sorry, that's my 'spreading good cheer' laugh. Really."

Loan-department manager: "There isn't any fine print. At these interest rates, we don't need it."

Working...