back to article W3C launches appeal to scupper Apple patent

The W3C, custodians of web standards, have launched an appeal for prior art to contest an Apple patent that appears to cover any kind of automated updating procedure, including the Widget standard on which the group is working. The patent, filed in 1995 and awarded in 1998, and which Apple revealed to the W3C in March, covers …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Patent office a joke....

    ...looks like they granted this one as well

    now I know full well there is prior on this!

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple didn't mention this before?

    Seems like given the scope they could have gotten an extra revenue stream by licencing this for a modest amount.

    Is a patent like a trademark - if you don't enforce your rights thne you lose them?

  3. Martin Lyne


    I'd like to patent the system whereby is a human is born they then proceed to old age.

    I'll only charge 50p per lifetime use.

    Mmm, £3B for me..

  4. Paul Owen 1
    Thumb Down

    Patent madness

    Is it just me that thinks the whole patent business has gone barking mad in the past few years?

    Surely the principle of auto updates shouldn't be patentable. Maybe a specific technical solution to the problem, but the principle in the frist place? Madness. Have Apple patented the on/off switch as well? How about 'the chair' - a means of plonking your backside on something whilst you use our patented on/off switch, so as to relieve the strain on your legs.

    Or, if they want to sue a bunch of other manufacturers, the legtop computer: a small, portable computer that can be placed on the top surface of your legs whilst in a seated position. Then they can drag all the 'laptop' manufacturers through the courts for IP infringement.

    The patenting of sections of the human genome was the start of it this bonkers practice - where will it end?


  5. Anonymous Coward

    Don't You Have to Actively Enforce a Patent to Keep It?

    I know that's the case for Copyright and Trademark, but IANAL.

    Internet updaters have been a ubiquitous fact of ONline life for several years now. Why is this thig suddenly lurching out of the grave, after well over a decade?

  6. amanfromearth
    Thumb Up

    Seems a bit confrontational..

    One wonders why they didn't ask Apple for a free license first..

    OTOH, the time that standards commitees take, the patent will have expired by then. Isn't it 18 years?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    " ... not obvious to one skilled in the art ..."

    I'd call auto-update way too obvious to patent. Maybe it could be overturned on those grounds.

    Alternatively, of course, the W3C could take out a patent on auto-updating using signatures and PKI to guarantee integrity and prevent spoofing or MITM attacks, which is how all modern updaters work, and then tell Apple they're welcome to their lousy years-out-of-date insecure patented method.

  8. Robert Forsyth

    Turn the program into data

    and you are free - a terminal screen replaces a form/page on show with a new one when it is updated on the server/mainframe

  9. Graham Wood

    Do I owe apple money?

    An application I wrote in approximately 1997 would check a network location for a version string, and if it was higher than the internal one would download a new version of itself from that location.

    Given that this is after 1995, I can't use it to help the W3C - so do I just owe apple money for doing something f***ing obvious instead?

  10. Richard Pennington 1

    Where to look for prior art...

    Try the anti-virus people. When did they start doing automatic signature upgrades?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Software Patents are ridiculous

    Patents on the whole are so abused as well.

    Patents are meant to protect small inventors from big business that could steal the idea and beat them to market, it is not meant to be used by big companies at all, but a lot are abusing the spirit of the patent.

    Something needs to be done about this, governments should grow a pair and start sorting out the patent mess and get back to the spirit of it. We don't want ID cards, we don't want to be told if we can smoke or not, neglect is right here in PATENTS.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    it describe a process that is obvious, infact I am quite sure that none of the people who added the auto-update feature in their application have ever heard of this patent.

    I understand that Apple wants to protect its patent, but considering how common the use of auto-update is, why are they trying to block it from becoming a standard? they haven't blocked anyone else from using it! (as far as I know)

  13. Julian I-Do-Stuff

    Change the Process?

    Program does not need to detect "whether a version of the program is stored in the designated location" - it just needs to identify itself to the Designated Location, which then compares the version of the running Program with a version stored anywhere (not necessarily in the Designated Location) and then advises/instructs the program accordingly...

    Different process... not covered by patent?

  14. Matt 5
    Jobs Horns

    Maybe not prior art, but...

    They might not be able to claim prior art (there may or may not be earlier systems doing this) but certainly it fails the obviousness test?

    Any technically minded person faced with a problem of keeping a group of networked machines updated witha piece of software would undoubtedly come up with a solution that covers these broad strokes.

    Also, if they believe there's any validity in the patent why haven't they sued everyone already for breach? Or have they already got licensing agreements with every company that does this?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Prior art..

    Surely not-prior-but-art-thought-up-without-any-knowledge-of-the-original-patent-and-is-now-used-everywhere should be enough to invalidate the patent?

    It should be the company's job to enforce the patent *before* everyone starts using it rather than pulling it out at a later stage..

    Oh.. but that would be sensible wouldn't it?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    another fine example

    ... of why software patents are wrong.

  17. Tzael


    Antivirus software. Used to get application and scanning engine updates automatically when connected to a BBS supporting FidoNet. Could also configure to connect to a designated NetWare server on a local or wide area network for updates too.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prior to 1995?

    Hmmm... Nothing comes to mind going back that far. In 95 where I was living, most people were still on dial-up.

    Are there other grounds for disputing patents?

    I would think there are possibly subtle differences between update mechanisms. For example, Windows Update is a component that checks for updates to other (MS) software on a periodic basis (including itself), whilst others check for updates for the specific program once that program is launched.

    I would hate for all companies to have to pay Apple for something we've all come to accept as standard.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    http 1992

    I'm sure I'm missing something fundamental here but isn't this what the W3C definition of the If-modified-since header was meant for?

    Or doesn't it count because it wouldn't have been used for 'software' in time because Javascript only appeared in December 1995?

  20. Michael C

    Reat the F-ing patent...

    It is NOT a patent on Auto-update, it is a patent on updating a RUNNING program WITHOUT user interruption. That's something NO updater currently does, but part of the W3C spec in question proposed. Apple, a member of the comittee, cited that issue, and WITHIN THIER RIGHTS (see source below), and following W3C terms everyone on the comittee agreed to, Apple is refusing to allow that technology to become a part of the spec unlicensed.

    This is also OLD news... From April 8th 2009...

    From the patent 5,764,992:


    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 (emphasis mine), and in a manner that is completely transparent to the user of the computer. This is achieved by means of a logic module that is incorporated into programs. The logic module performs the functions of locating and identifying other versions of its associated program, determining whether the other versions are older or newer than the currently running version, and replacing older versions of itself with a newer version. As part of this operation, the logic module can copy the newer version to its current location, move the older version to a secondary location, and remove older versions of itself that have been replaced by a newer version. The new version that is to replace an older version can reside on an individual computer, or can be present on a server to which a number of computers are connected via a network. With this arrangement, software upgrades can be effected in an efficient and automatic manner, without resort to any external resources.

    The autor of this article is spreading miinformation. This is BAD Journalism.

    Several who ARE informed have been saying things like "Under the W3C's membership policies, those within the standards group -- including Apple -- are required to offer their patents royalty-free, which the company has so far refused to do, according to the report" however, upon inspecting that statement, that is ONLY for technologies developed DURING the process, and PRIOR AND EXISTING PATENTS are NOT subject to being offered for free (unless volumteered). Apple (and any other company) is permitted to file such complaint up to 150 days of the publication of the first working draft of the standard. They did so in this case PRIOR to it's publication, when the first draft was still in draft form, not yet fully presented.

    Apple is the only company contesting a patent on this particular standard, but this issue has been raised AMNY times in the past on other standard, by Microsoft, HP, Sun, and others.

    For more details, the author should actually read the patent, and then also read this: The W3C patent exception process...

  21. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Applications are just files... any internet-based source code control system that supports a "get latest" command would appear to fit the bill. And the internet is just a large network, so any LAN based system would fit the bill too. I'll suggest UNIX's SCCS, simply because *I'm not old enough* to know about an earlier example.

    If you *insist* that the inetnetty-ness of this invention is crucial, then I shall simply point out that the invention was dreamt up within a few years (months?) of the internet going critical, and so common sense suggests that the idea is obvious.

    This would in fact be a very useful principle to add to IP law. If an invention appears almost immediately after other technology first makes the invention useful, it is *presumed obvious* and therefore society does not grant the inventor any rights over the idea. If you happen to have a stroke of genius too soon, just withhold publication (get a lawyer to sign and date a patent application and stick it in a safe) until a suitable period has elapsed. Since your idea is so bloody amazing, there's no chance of anyone else coming up with it, and even if they do they won't be able to patent it either. Ha ha ha ha ...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    There is plenty of prior art

    I remember Apple Link Personal Edition back in 1989 or so updating itself when there was a new version available. Around the same time I set up software build systems that would look for updates to code and refresh your local copy before compiling it and running it. It was an obvious thing to do.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Software patents

    Almost as useless as SCO stock....

    Why do we still have such a flawed system. I uinderstand that companies don't want someone to steal their products, rebrand it and sell it, but this is rediculous.

  24. Owen Smith

    "GET / HTTP/1.1" 200

    html works for me as a scripted language

    and httpd code 200 tells me to get a newer version of the script i want to run

  25. Simon Booth

    Morris, the first worm

    The world's first Internet worm, Morris, sort of auto updated by mistake owing to a bug in the code in November 1988


  26. proto-robbie
    Paris Hilton

    Worked on this in 1993

    I was contracted to a large utility to write and run a dBase IV system which did this in 1993: sales reps using laptops would have new software installed when they either dialled in or plugged into the office network & server.

    I can supply more details if anyone's interested.

    Paris 'cos her software was under control back then too.

  27. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    In the 1980s the Acorn Archimedes would advise you that various parts of the OS were out of date and invite you to update them (when installing new software for example). Changing this to actually doing the upgrade for you was trivially obvious, once there was a method of actually doing that!

  28. easyk

    patants meh

    I knew patents were in trouble when my boss told me to get with the company lawyer to patent a trivial improvement to a system. I must give some credit to the US Patent office though since it has been languising in the approval process for 3 years now.

  29. Kanhef


    "[I]t is desirable to provide a mechanism by which software programs can be automatically updated in an easy and effective manner without concerns over security issues that are raised by external access requirements. ... In accordance with the present invention, this objective is achieved by means of a method and apparatus that permits a software program running on a computer to automatically replace 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."


    - The process is completely automatic, with no interaction or notification to the user.

    - The entire program itself is being replaced, not [just] data files such as virus signatures.

    - Everything is done by the program itself, not a separate updater, background service, periodic job, nor does it hand off responsibility to another program on an update server.

    @Julian I-Do-Stuff:

    Yes, if server-side code determines if a newer version exists, it is not covered.

    @AC 15:58:

    If-modified-since doesn't count because it is at most a component of the update process (it won't move and replace the currently-running program), and the evaluation is done server-side. Also, using that header for program version checking is an extremely non-obvious use of the protocol.

    @Simon Booth:

    The Morris worm was willing to infect a computer multiple times, which has nothing to do with updates. As far as I know, there was only one version of it.

    @Owen Smith:

    No, code 200 just indicates that the request was successful. Unless you're making a completely bizarre use of HTTP, with, say, code 300 indicating there is no newer version, which passes the obviousness test but fails the sanity one. And it does the version checking server-side.

  30. Robert Forsyth

    From computer science lecture mid 80s

    Plan 9 or Unix did some of this - you could carry on running a program in memory while the version on disk was updated.

    Make (with SCCS) would get the latest version (by date-time) of the source when you made a program.

  31. Andraž Levstik

    Only trademarks

    need to be enforced to keep them. Copyright and Patents are not. They are a time-limited monopoly on something.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did it in the 70s update the network control program in remote terminals (a derivative of the Burroughs TC500) over expensive slow leased lines using 7 bit data so I had to invent something very much like uuencoding too to send the 8 bit files. However the system is long gone as will be archives and documentation.

    The patent law, especially the way it is abused in USA is a 19th century solution no longer fit for purpose, instead acting as a drag on innovators. As an individual I can't afford to patent my ideas - and even if I could I'd not be able to afford the lawyers to defend my patents when ripped off by the big guys, as far as I am concerned patenting my inventions is a way of putting them into the public domain in such a way that they are more likely to be stolen not less. It should be replaced with something closer to copyright, the right is created by the act of creating the item, product, work of art?

    What is the value to society of those who create patents, make no effort to exploit them, just wait for someone else to do so and hit them with an infringement action often years after the initial alleged infingement (see Blackberry). Wasn't there a time when in US a patent had to be supported by a working model which models form part of the Smithsonian collection?

  33. Chris O'Shea
    Thumb Up

    @Michael C - thank you!

    so many times on The Reg we get the foaming at the mouth and the rants from people who haven't read *and understood* the point of a software patent and then drag in the "oh, I shall patent oxygen and charge you all for breathing" bit ...

    ... Yes, the essential bit that I needed to see pointed out is that it is a program replacing itself with a newer version WHILE CONTINUING TO RUN. Not Firefox saying "there's a new version, do you want to download it and install it before Firefox starts, or do you want to download it now, and it will be available next time you start Firefox" but actually Firefox continuing to work but it's magically updated from 3.0.10 to 3.0.11 without interupting your browsing.

    I can't think of many/any applications that do that now ... and I certainly don't know of any before 1995.

    Even now most applications seem to have the "a new version has been downloaded, you will need to restart Windows to complete the installation".

    Even anti-virus software usually requires you to start scanning again if you download a new virus definition file, never mind a new version of the running software.

    Nevertheless, I'm not sure whether it is an original enough idea to warrant surviving a patent challenge.

    And to those going FFS this should never have been patented ... the current process seems to be that unless it's really obvious or there is obvious prior art, then the patent is granted and it is left to other companies to challenge it. It makes it easier/quicker/cyheaper to apply for a patent and to be granted a patent, and it is left to the community to see if anyone cares.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The point of patents...

    Is that if you have an original idea, you can protect it. It may be obvious, others ay well have thought about it before, but if they do not publish a worked version, then another individual is free to protect the idea or concept, as it is deemed BY LAW to be the original thought. See Elisha Gray and the telephone...

  35. Bod
    Thumb Down

    Re: The point of patents...

    What you are describing is that patents are just simply based on the first person to register the idea, regardless of it being so blindingly obvious. It's like saying the first man who made fire could therefore patent it, or even the first man who learned to walk!

    That's not the spirit of patents, especially where a huge corporation is using it to subsequently sue every man and his dog knowing full well they are almost certainly going to come across the idea.

    There's also a part of the patent spirit which says you must actually enforce your patent. Just sitting on it for years until someone comes along with the same idea so you can sue them is utterly wrong.

    As for "there are no self updating without interruption" apps out there. How about Google Chrome? It's been updating me for ages now and I've never noticed. Okay it wasn't developed before 1995 ;). Still, I'm sure there are plenty of stuff from the old client/server days of the 80s and early 90s that featured this kind of update, especially as uptime for business systems was a critical factor.

    As for Apple. Does their patent require that along with the update, other Apple branded applications must be forced upon the user at the same time (iTunes & QuickTime for example)? ;)

  36. Rigo

    Thanks a lot and please continue

    Hi all,

    I'm W3C's PAG chair and I have read many comments with a lot of interest. Some comments where posted anonymously without URI to the reported prior art. This makes it very hard for me to get to that useful information. I would invite those commenting on Plan9 and TC 500 to send me private email with a hint where I can find the information given (Maybe I have to go to the library). Or just put a URI here. And please, if you have any further idea, do not hesitate to send comments here, to my personal email address or to the public mailing-list:



    Thanks for contributing to the Web's well being

    Rigo Wenning

    W3C Legal counsel

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I don't think things like this should be patented.

    Things which are perfectly obvious should not be patent-able.

    This is patents stifling innovation again. And Apple is not the only offender here....

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