SOAP Poised for "Clean" Royalty-Free Bill of Health

Momentum continues to build for widespread and royalty-free adoption of SOAP. Despite concerns that W3C's adoption of SOAP 1.2 specs may be bogged down by vendor claims of royalty or patent protection, analysts expect the situation will be resolved by yearend. Epicentric (one of the vendors thought to be holding IP claims on SOAP) has withdrawn those claims. While that still leaves WebMethods' claims, sources say behind-the-scenes negotiations are busily at work to put the issue to rest.

Tags: WebMethods, SOAP, Royalty-free, Web Services, Patents, Adoption, Bloomberg,


The momentum continues to build for widespread and royalty-free adoption of SOAP, despite concerns that W3C's adoption of SOAP 1.2 specs may be bogged down by vendor claims of royalty or patent protection.

Analysts expect the situation will be resolved by yearend. Epicentric (one of the vendors thought to be holding IP claims on SOAP) has withdrawn those claims. While that still leaves WebMethods' claims, sources say behind-the-scenes negotiations are busily at work to put the issue to rest.

Epicentric spokesperson Colleen Nichols told Integration Developer News that the company will drop any outstanding IP claims that might delay SOAP 1.2's adoption.

In a formal statement to IDN, Nichols said: "Epicentric is in the process of amending its W3C License Type from RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory), which was an oversight, to RF (royalty free). Epicentric," she added, "believes that for any standards body to succeed, contributing members must offer all patented contributions on a royalty-free basis. We have no patents that implicate the SOAP 1.2 specification and, even if it did, would have no intention of charging royalties for the use of SOAP 1.2."

WebMethods isn't quite as ready to give up whatever IP claims it may have, however -- at least publically. A spokesperson for WebMethods responded to IDN's request for an interview as follows: "Thanks for your interest in talking to webMethods, but at this point, we're not commenting on this topic. If that changes, I will contact you immediately."

In the webMethods statement on the topic of SOAP-related IP to the W3C earlier this year, webMethods appeared to be willing to play hard ball with its SOAP-relevant technologies.

In part, the company said:

"webMethods believes that it may have patents relevant to the Web Services activity and, to the extent that it does, webMethods is not willing to waive its rights in its relevant Patents, if any. However, subject to the conditions in this statement, webMethods' licensing policy for Patents will be upon adoption of this activity or of its contribution as a recommendation, to negotiate licenses on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms under applicable webMethods intellectual property rights essential to implement and use the technology proposed in its contribution in products that are consistent with this activity or that comply with the Recommendation but only for such purposes."

Further, webMethods went on to say that should it pursue its patent claims, it would not be sadddled with a "spoiler" role by the industry. In webMethods' words, "In no event will webMethods be liable to any other party including the W3C and its members for the cost of procuring substitute goods or services, lost profits, loss of use, loss of data, or any incidental, consequential, punitive, direct, indirect, or special damages."

Analysts Say SOAP Resolution on the Way
Despite webMethods' perceived hardline, analysts don't see a clear winning strategy for the company.

"I don't know if even webMethods knows what they want here," Jason Bloomberg, a senior analyst at Zapthink, a web services consulting firm based in Waltham, Mass., told IDN.

"The question is really whether a company like web Methods can really obstruct SOAP 1.2. And, I think it's a chess move, for the most part," Bloomberg added. "There's no question after more than a year working on this that the W3C would expect webMethods to play ball, and I have a feeling they'll come around. The worst thing that may happen is that this will slow things down a bit. I don't see a headline in March that says 'SOAP Goes Down the Tubes,'" Bloomberg added.

In a recent interview about prospective web services standards, a leading exec at Giga Information Group also told IDN that webMethods has more to lose than gain if they attempt to derail SOAP.

"There is no question there is some frustration out there from users regarding some web integration approaches like webMethods," said Uttam Narsu, vice president at Giga. This frustration among end users, Narsu added, will set the stage for an increased interest among customers in web services, but not until a more mature standards-based web services solution set becomes available.

As for SOAP, Narsu said he does not see an issue big enough from webMethods that could derail its adoption as a standard. He added that higher level specs that address XML namespaces, however, have the possibility of becoming a separate issue but is also heartened by OASIS' efforts to set royalty-free XML schema such as IFX for the financial community.

But can't lawyers get in the way of technologists? Maybe sometimes, but maybe not in this case. "My guess is that the webMethods lawyers are working overtime to figure out what to do about this issue," Zapthink's Bloomberg added.




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