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Apple Patent Claim Threatens To Block Or Delay W3C 332

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:26PM (#27492123)


    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.

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

    by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:30PM (#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.

  • by Mike1024 ( 184871 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:38PM (#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.

  • Re:Oh, Apple (Score:3, Informative)

    by xouumalperxe ( 815707 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:43PM (#27492473)
    That'd be Google.
  • Re:Oh, Apple (Score:5, Informative)

    by orclevegam ( 940336 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:44PM (#27492495) Journal
    Actually "do no evil" was Google shtick, not Apples. Apple has never claimed not to be evil, they're just very stylish about it.
  • by tb3 ( 313150 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:48PM (#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.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) * on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:55PM (#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.

  • by Firehed ( 942385 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @01:59PM (#27492743) Homepage

    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 example of software from Apple (or anyone else, for that matter) that does this, I could see some level of validity; as far as I'm concerned if they haven't implemented it then this is just patent trolling. The closest I've seen are apps that use the Sparkle update framework which is fairly seamless (better than Apple's Software Update, IMO) but still requires you to give the OK to a download and then a restart. Panic's Coda automatically DLs updates in the background but, again, requires a restart to take effect. I'm certainly no lawyer, but it seems that a required restart of the app would go against the idea of no user interference or required user intervention.

  • by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:01PM (#27492803) Journal

    Actually, it does notify you by placing a "rebooting in x seconds" warning on the screen. Its also clearly interrupting the program in question. Even the basic updates that don't require a reboot sometimes reset the desktop, close windows, or at the very least, notify the user. Not a single MS update is completely transparent to the user.

  • by ThrowAwaySociety ( 1351793 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:03PM (#27492831)

    *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 Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:07PM (#27492889) Journal

    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 royalty free to everyone else, then it has to be LICENCED by the W3C and appropriate fees must be paid to Apple. This does not mean that the W3C technologies would include Royalties, just that the group members designing it would have to pay Apple for that piece of the technology in the form of a one-time fee, or they'll have to design around it...

  • Re:Unimplementable (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArsonSmith ( 13997 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:31PM (#27493339) Journal

    # cat /etc/cron.daily/auto-update
    apt-get update && apt-get upgrade

    completely transparent. No verifications or reboot requests. new version is put in place. I keep working with old version until I'm done and the new version takes over whenever I naturally quit and restart.

  • by Anonymous Psychopath ( 18031 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @02:58PM (#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 Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @03:09PM (#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.

  • Re:Unimplementable (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @03:44PM (#27494425)

    Bear in mind that Apple's patent was filed in 1995, this is definitely not obvious for the time.

    apt-get didn't exist until after 2000 (ish) anyway.

  • Um, no (Score:3, Informative)

    by melted ( 227442 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @04:30PM (#27495125) Homepage

    Programs often get borked when they're upgraded on the fly. Firefox certainly does this if you upgrade it while it's running, as do various pieces of server software which HAVE to undergo a restart to update the data and config files.

    You have to restart everything that was affected to be sure (including the OS if you upgrade the kernel).

  • by gnasher719 ( 869701 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @05:28PM (#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?
  • Re:Unimplementable (Score:3, Informative)

    by Trogre ( 513942 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @08:17PM (#27497811) Homepage

    ... and then wonder why you can't save any of the Openoffice.org documents you have open due to mismatching libraries.

    (note: I use apt and yum myself daily on Debian and Fedora boxen, but never recommend doing them non-interactively)

  • by Raenex ( 947668 ) on Tuesday April 07, 2009 @09:52PM (#27498547)

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

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

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court