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Royalty question surfaces in WS-Discovery spec

Microsoft and four other vendors last week released an update to the WS-Discovery specification that includes language which could enable the vendors to charge royalties for its use.


IBM has said it won't charge royalties for the use of its specifications


Read about the device profile for Web services standards

Microsoft's update to the Web Services Dynamic Discovery specification (WS-Discovery), released late last week, normally wouldn't merit much attention, except from a few devotees from the technical community.

But a closer look may be warranted for enterprises deploying Web services. The problem revolves around the R-word, the original four-letter word in Web services -- royalties.

Last Friday's update includes new language that states:

"BEA Systems, Canon, Intel, Microsoft and webMethods Inc. (collectively, the "Co-developers") each agree to grant you a license, under reasonable, non-discriminatory terms and conditions, to their respective essential Licensed Claims, which reasonable, non-discriminatory terms and conditions may include, for example, the payment of royalties and an affirmation of the obligation to grant reciprocal licenses under any of the licensee's patents that are necessary to implement the Specification."

In short, the co-developers reserve the right to collect future royalties from companies using WS-Discovery-compliant products.

WebMethods vice president of strategic solutions Andy Astor, who is also chairman of the Web Services-Interoperability Organization (WS-I) marketing and communications committee, said enterprises needn't read too deeply into it.

"It's an artifact of the lawyers," Astor said, adding that anyone attending a Dec. 6-7 feedback workshop in Irvine, Calif., must sign an agreement that the spec remain royalty-free.

The language now involves royalties, which is a deviation from the WS-* specs, which are royalty-free.
Jason Bloomberg
Senior analystZapThink LLC

"It's not a newsworthy element to the spec. It's a non-issue," Astor said.

A Microsoft representative told that "Microsoft remains committed to licensing terms that do not include royalties." The rep also referred to a page on the MSDN Web services developer site that points out "Microsoft is committed to license its essential technology on royalty-free, and other reasonable and non-discriminatory terms" for a list of 30 specifications including WS-Discovery.

WS-Discovery, part of the WS-* set of composable architecture specs, was originally released in February and did not include this language. WebMethods, meanwhile, is new to the spec with this release.

"The language now involves royalties, which is a deviation from the WS-* specs, which are royalty-free," said ZapThink LLC senior analyst Jason Bloomberg. "It makes you think why they are bothering. Why would a company use this spec if they had to pay a royalty? I think the market will determine whether these vendors are going to continue to work on this spec."

Bloomberg also said the language may give other vendors the impetus to write an alternative specification.

"It's up to the market to say if they will look for an alternative," he said.

WS-Discovery defines a protocol for locating Web services in ad hoc networks where minimal network services like DNS or UDDI directory services are available. It's not a discovery service in the same sense as UDDI, Bloomberg said.

"It enables a service to advertise itself so that other services could find it on a network," Bloomberg said. "It's not critical for a service-oriented architecture, but it is useful for peer-to-peer networks or mobile phones looking for services on a network."

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