Is Apple's WebKit a patent minefield?
Tuesday, July 7, 2009 9:39:19 AM
The company is concerned about possible patents and lack of hardware acceleration for Theora, it says. And surely not its QuickTime product line?
Apple's recent blocking of the new widgets specification through the use of patents shows that the company's commercial interests seem to be increasingly at odds with the open Web. And their response to Palm Pre sent a strong signal to the market. Apple is ready to "go after anyone who infringes on their patents". It can't be put any clearer than this:
We are ready to suit up and go against anyone. However, we will not stand for having our IP ripped off and will use whatever weapons we have at our disposal.
This is not particularly good news to those of Apple's competitors who have chosen to use WebKit as a browser engine.
While WebKit is open-source, that does not mean that Apple does not hold any patents related to their browser engine. With the strong signals from Apple regarding patents lately, competitors making use of Apple's engine could quickly find themselves in trouble if Apple decides to enforce browser related patents.
Yes, Apple certainly has the right to enforce its so-called "intellectual property". But what happens if the company gets in trouble and needs to raise money in order to survive?
Both current and future competitors of Apple (the company is entering new markets all the time) have decided to try out WebKit. But Apple continues down the path it has indicated that it is heading, those competitors could quickly find themselves in a patent minefield.
Companies that absolutely want to build their own browser may be better off using Mozilla's Gecko engine instead of WebKit. Yes, Gecko might be bulkier, more memory hungry, not as fast, and a bit more tricky to use than other engines, but at least Mozilla hasn't shown many signs of wanting to go on the offense with patents.
It basically seems to be less of an obstacle to the open Web and patent-free browsing.