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The nonprofit World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has posted a public plea on the Internet for information it needs to overturn a patent held by one of its members, Intermind, that covers methods of exchanging metadata (data about data) over networks. The patent covers parts of the W3C’s new protocol for protecting the personal information of Web users, known as P3P. The standards body wants P3P freely adopted; Intermind wants royalties from users.

W3C’s officers launched an assault on the patent using a Web page that urges readers to search for and submit prior art-papers, memos, anything that could show Intermind wasn’t the first to come up with the metadata scheme. If prior art is found, the patent could be declared invalid. There’s precedent for the patent-busting tactic. Last year, Netscape Communications used an Internet appeal to help beat back a lawsuit from Wang Laboratories. “It can only work if you have a willing group of searchers,” says Alan Fisch, a litigator with Howrey & Simon in Washington, D.C. “But there is no shortage of people who find software patents counterproductive.”

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