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W3C Looking for More Patent Feedback 128

Posted by michael
from the looking-for-trouble dept.
KjetilK writes: "The World Wide Web Consortium has posted a response to public comments it received. Part of the response is that the review period is extended to 11 October 2001. Continue to submit elaborate comments to the proposed policy, and make sure that the points made by the W3C are specifically addressed. Also, read the Patent Policy Framework proposal, the original announcement and background and the Patent Policy FAQ."
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W3C Looking for More Patent Feedback

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  • by Si (9816) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @09:23AM (#2377880) Homepage
    As a professional software developer making a living from being able to
    develop platform-agnostic applications for the web, I am extremely alarmed to
    see the W3C's proposed stance on patents & standards. With the proposed
    changes in place the web will become more and more a showcase for large
    corporations and will extinguish the independence and innovation that have
    made the internet freely accessibly to anyone with a web browser (of any
    flavour) and a dial-up account.
    Indeed, with the proposals in place the web risks becoming a tool of a few
    corporations (I think I don't need to list them specifically) and innovation
    will largely be shut down. After a while, the W3C itself will cease to be
    relevant, and I can hardly believe that is what is intended.
    I urge you, therefore, to reject these proposals and show your organisation to
    be one of integrity to the ideals of Tim Berners-Lee et al; be proud that you
    are not just another tool of big business.
    • You failed to show how the proposed policy will have the effect that you outline, or indeed to mention any specific points of the proposed policy.

      Whether you are right or wrong, you won't convince anyone with a letter like that.
  • by mgbaron (457884) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @09:26AM (#2377888) Homepage
    I think more effort should be made to have more of tese documents available in multiple languages. Many of the documents, such as the Patent FAQ, are only available in english. If this is really an international consortium then it should be treated like one. I'm sure there are plenty of willing translators out there. Or maybe they could at least run it through Babblefish [babblefish.com] for the time being.
    • I think more effort should be made to have more of these documents available in multiple languages. Many of the documents, such as the Patent FAQ, are only available in english. If this is really an international consortium then it should be treated like one. I'm sure there are plenty of willing translators out there. Or maybe they could at least run it through Babblefish [babblefish.com] for the time being.

      Actually I agree completely, in principle, but in this particular case I think the best thing would be to use Bablefish to translate all the current English RAND documents into Russian, and then the Russian into Turkish, and then the Turkish back into English, and then finally publish the result instead of the current docs.

  • by ClarkEvans (102211) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @09:30AM (#2377900) Homepage
    I personally feel that RAND is dead wrong; however, if it must come to pass, then perhaps
    here is a compromise: Allow for royalty free use of the patent, but only if the software is licensed under the GPL. As much as Microsoft has bashed GPL in the past, this is probably the best option for the big boys. They could claim to "support open source" software but still keep their ability to charge royalties for proprietary implementations.

    Note that allowing royalty free linking with any ole open source license will allow proprietary applications to "get around" the licensing restrictions. So, I can see why they would require GPL, but nothing less than GPL. One could also use the patent royalty free with any software that had a GPL compatible license, under the restriction that the aggregate license must also be GPL compatible. They may also have to add a clause that the source code for software must be available for download under the GPL when used as a server side process. As this would also give a "loop hole" allowing proprietary uses of the patented technology.
  • too vague (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BroadbandBradley (237267) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @09:35AM (#2377924) Homepage
    [2-4] Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) License

    A RAND License:

    * must be available to all implementers worldwide.
    * must extend to all Essential Claims.
    * may be limited to implementations of the recommendation, and to what is required by the recommendation.
    * may be conditioned on a grant of a reciprocal license on RAND terms to all Essential Claims owned or controlled by the licensee and its affiliates.
    * may be conditioned on payment of reasonable, non-discriminatory royalties or fees; and,
    * may not impose any further conditions or restrictions on the use of any technology, IPRs, or other restrictions on behavior of the licensee; but,
    * may include reasonable, customary terms relating to operation or maintenance of the license relationship such as the following: audit (when relevant to fees), choice of law, and dispute resolution.

    what's a reasonable amount for someone living in Nepal versus someone living in the USA?

    don't do this royalty thing, it's opening a whole can of worms like enforcement and audits that beg for corporate sponsorship and involvement. Why invite a bunch of lawyers to ruin an otherwise great party? This in my mind will destroy what w3c's version of a "standard" really means.

    • Re:too vague (Score:4, Informative)

      by platypus (18156) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:34AM (#2378074) Homepage
      * may be conditioned on payment of reasonable, non-discriminatory royalties or fees;

      Yeah,

      just like some company [curl.com], which created a new technology [curl.com] with a nice pricing policy [curl.com] and at least one well [w3.org] known founder [curl.com].

      One wonders if they have a patent pending.
    • Free and Open Source software is used a lot in web applications. So in order to meet the conditions of the RAND licence, the royalties will have to be set at a level (eg zero) which does not discriminate against the use in Free (as in beer) and Open Source products.
      • that's the other method they use currently and will continue to offer as an option:

        [2-5] Royalty Free (RF) License

        An RF License shall have the same characteristics as a RAND License, except an RF License:

        * may not be conditioned on payment of royalties, fees or other consideration;
        * may require that all licensees make any Essential Claims they control available to all on a no-royalty basis; and,
        * shall not be considered accepted by an implementer who manifests an intent NOT to accept the terms of the RF license as offered by the licensor.

        I think they shoud stick with this to be able to remain an impartial 3rd party group.
  • Do you have a standards-compliant website that proudly displays the W3C validator icon? You can continue to show your support for standards while questioning the W3C's patent activity by putting a "dark cloud" graphic above the W3C validator icon.

    Check it out here:

    http://www.userfunded.org/w3cloud.html [userfunded.org]

  • by Neil Watson (60859) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @09:56AM (#2377946) Homepage
    Over the years the World Wide Web has evolved into the greatest free speech soap box the world has ever known. Vast amount of information and opinions are available for all to see.

    This proposal to introduce patents into WWW standards greatly concerns the future of the Web. What will happen to the great soap box? Will I have to pay royalties to post my web page? Will I be forced to use a certain OS and web browser to view some web sites and then maybe another browser for others? Will my hard drive become clogged with endless browser plugins. Each allowing me to view separately patented web technology? I see the possibility of greater costs to the web users. I may have to pay greater software and ISP costs.

    If the World Wide Web is to become the media of the future. What will happen if large coporations have the patents to control its content? Does everyone still feel that their voice will always be heard?

    • I feel that in large part it comes down to a matter of what Noam Chomsky [weeklywire.com] said in an interview with the Boston Phoenix in 1999... Here's a quote:

      "Handing over the digital spectrum, or for that matter the Internet, to private power -- that's a huge blow against democracy. In the case of the Internet, it's a particularly dramatic blow against democracy because this was paid for by the public. How undemocratic can you get? Here is a major instrument, developed by the public -- first part of the Pentagon, and then universities and the National Science Foundation -- handed over in some manner that nobody knows to private corporations who want to turn it into an instrument of control. They want to turn it into a home shopping center. You know, where it will help them convert you into the kind of person they want. Namely, someone who is passive, apathetic, sees their life only as a matter of having more commodities that they don't want. Why give them a powerful weapon to turn you into that kind of a person? Especially after you paid for the weapon? Well, that's what's happening right in front of our eyes."

      From: "Who Runs America? Forty Minutes With Noam Chomsky" [weeklywire.com] Interview by Adrian Zupp for the Boston Phoenix [bostonphoenix.com]: Weekly Wire [weeklywire.com]

      --Mark VII
  • by RNG (35225) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @09:58AM (#2377956) Homepage
    Given that now they have extended their feedback period, take the time to let them know that this is *BAD*. However, please take a few minutes to create an intelligent response rather than firing off an "This sucks, you are all corrupt idiots" type comment.

    Also, read the already posted comments. There are many well thought out replies that nicely summarize *why* this is bad; I would certainly recommend reading Alan Cox's post which presents some very good arguments against this. I personally don't think I have anything fundamentally new to add (+ I only found out about the opportunity to comment after the original deadline) but I am planning to post a comment stating my view that this proposal is fundamentally flawed and refer to other comments which I agree with.

    Above all, let them know that there is a *huge* number of people out there who value open standards and don't care to play the 'You need IP protection in order to stimulate research' game (as was stated/posted by some MSFT drone).

    We have enough boring shopping malls already; we don't need to turn the internet into another one when it could be much more and be a truly open medium.
    • In particular, an intellligent comment would suggest an alternative approach to patent-protected technologies that would still address the concerns that motivated the proposal in the first place.

      Say there is a web technology that is in the process of becoming a de facto standard, but which is also protected by patents. How can W3C address such a technology to make it as accessible as possible? Remember, if technology makes W3C irrelevant, W3C won't do any good at all as a standards body and won't be able to make anything open.

      I think the best we might hope for is some sort of mandatory limited free license for RAND patents used in not-for-profit or research development.

    • It just doesn't feel right that we have to explain ourselves in the first place. The fact that they had a no-royalty policy in the first place had suggested to me that they had already figured it out.
  • ...it should be putting forth free, open standards for the obvious reason: once it starts adopting patented "standards" that cost people money to use, individuals or groups will run an end route and create a free, open standard that effectively replaces the W3C's version of it, rendering the W3C's version worthless.
    They're inching closer to obsoletion, anyhow. XML, XSLT and SOAP all really do feel like they were designed by a comittee of comittees who weren't exactly sure what the other guy was up to.
  • Specific Points (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Digital Mage (124845) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:04AM (#2377976)

    -a requirement for disclosure provisions

    This is a good thing, we don't want to have the same crap that Rambus pulled with RDRAM.

    -a procedure for launching new standards development activities as Royalty-Free Licensing Mode activities.

    I'm assuming previous standards already fall under this category and this is just a way to clear any misunderstandings (good thing?)

    -a procedure for launching new standards development activities as Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) Licensing Mode activities

    BAD THING! Everyone is going to want to push their standards over to RAND so that they can make money on their technology patents, ultimately shrinking the future number of open standards. They state: When a Working Group wishes to produce a specification that is not Royalty-Free, the proposed policy requires the charter to provide rationale for the choice of RAND. What will be the rationale? This isn't clear and many standards you find today (HTML, XML, etc.) could have fallen under RAND if it existed back then.

    W3C should only be concerned with Royalty Free / Open standards. If a company owns a patent on the technology they control the standard. How does W3C plan on forcing a company to stick to a standard where ultimately the company controls the technology. This is just going to confuse current and future developers.

    • There is a requirement that participants disclose patents and public patent applications that they personally know of with no requirement to search through the company's portfolio even if they have a suspicion that the company might have a relevant patent.

      Unless the participant is the company's patent attorney this "good faith" provision is easy to work around. The company will simply not inform the participant of the portfolio. The company can still pump the participant for info on how the standards work is going, and can still provide the participant direction that will lead the w3c to adopt the company's patented technology without violating the weak "good faith" provision.

      Since patent applications are not public for the first 18 months, there is plenty of time for a participant to "in good faith" to commit the working group to a patented technology. If the applicant is willing to forgo foreign patents, the application won't be public until it issues, and thus no duty to disclose for the several years it takes for a patent to issue.

      Further, unless the participant is a patent attorney, his opinion that a given technology does or does not infringe a patent is of no legal consequence. Only patent lawywers are able to give such a legal opinion.

      Also troubling is that some member is opposed to required RAND licensing to entities outside the working group. It should be pretty clear what view that unknown member has concerning open standards.

      And the mechanism for enforcement of the disclosure provision? Someone may have a defense when they get sued for patent infringement. I believe the findings of fraud in the RAMBUS case were all later reversed.
    • " -a requirement for disclosure provisions"

      This is a good thing, we don't want to have the same crap that Rambus pulled with RDRAM.

      JEDEC also has requirements for disclosure in place. Rambus simply ignored them, or cheated their way around them. You'd think the government would be interested in this, but they have sat on their hands and still are sitting on their hands. The deck is so strongly stacked in favor of those who like to play the patent game it isn't funny.

    • I would go further. I would assert that while a proprietary piece of verbage may be a specification or an API, it cannot be a standard. To claim otherwise is a perversion of the term.

      Proprietary is slightly the wrong word there. Certainly the Ada standard created by the DoD, and enforced by their trademark on the name Ada, was a standard. But anyone was allowed to use it. They just couldn't call their products Ada unless the DoD agreed that it was, indeed, Ada. So products like Janus were born, that implemented a subset of Ada on the early micro-processors. But the DoD didn't claim the right to tell (Railroad software?) that they couldn't sell Janus. They just said that it couldn't be called Ada. This is quite legitimate (and part of what defining a standard is). So proprietary is slightly the wrong word. But only slightly.
  • RAND and SSSCA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Masem (1171) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:10AM (#2377993)
    I'm glad that W3C extended this period; given that the period was open for about 1.5 months across the Sept 11 events, it only makes sense to extend it a bit.

    One thing that concerns me about RAND is related to the issue of SSSCA. Undoubtably, if SSSCA is passed, those that are in control of patents regarding digital right authenication methods are going to push heavily for inclusion of their property into the specs. That means every piece of hardware and software will have an added 'tax' akin to the RAMBUS memory tax, and will drastically increase the price of hardware and software.

    Similarly , if RAND passes, not only would the cost of software go up because of payments, but it would be very hard for open-source programmers to get their foot in the door. Sure, this won't affect the core functionality of the web (HTML and XML), but who knows what the next future technology will be that will make a big difference on the web? I strongly urge everyone that cares about open development to reply to this.

  • So... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by david_g (24196) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:15AM (#2378002)

    Is it in any way possible to form a standards body composed entirely of open source people? With all these things W3C has aptly shown that its relevance days should be over.

    Things shouldn't be left in the hands of the big corporations. There are more than enough examples that their interests are in their pockets instead of their customers. So why do people keep paying attention to them? Let them make all the flawed, selfish standards that they want. Why the heck should they dictate the laws? Can't open source/free software people think for themselves, and standardize things on their technical merits instead of their money-making merits?

    Oh well, in an ideal world there would be a non-profit corporation (is this a paradox?) allowing people to work on their projects full-time (the FSF doesn't cut it, because RMS seems a little too much of a control freak to me. I may be wrong). No shareholders, no screwing of people... Ahh, those would be the days...

    • Re:So... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by J'raxis (248192)
      But who would listen to your group? Groups like the W3C at least have some legitimacy because they were founded around the vision of Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who created the web. And still look how many people dont even bother to listen to them.

      You may have more success trying to get open source groups involved in the current standards bodies more, like the W3C, to take it back from the corporations who are trying to turn it into a rubber-stamp agency.
      • Yes, there would lie the problem, comercially speaking. Well, maybe the open source people would. :)

        The big win open source has over comercial interests is that things can be taken on the basis of technical merits instead of the amount of revenue they generate. I find it unthinkable (and still am shocked) for a standards body to be willing to accept a standard that can't be freely implemented by all. What value does that standard have? Some people can't (or won't) pay to implement it, whether because they're working on open source projects, or because they simply may not have the necessary money to license what is needed.

        With this proposal the W3C (and the ones behind it, namely Microsoft, Apple, HP, MIT, etc) are just saying 'screw you' to open source people. Maybe it's time for open source people to say, 'well, screw you too' to them.

        • I agree in principle, but then therell be an even worse schism between MSIE and the OSS browsers than now. At least the two sides try to implement the same standards now. If the OSS browser coders intentionally decide to start using their own standards, it will only get worse. We have to be able to implement the same stuff the commercial browsers do unless were trying to marginalize ourselves.

          FYI, the IETF [ietf.org] and ISO [www.iso.ch] have been standardizing on proprietary standards for years. POSIX, for example (ISO 1003.6). And, UTF8, 16, 32 are all standards but are owned by Unicode, Inc. [unicode.org]
          • I agree in principle, but then there?ll be an even worse schism between MSIE and the OSS browsers than now.

            When I talk about standards I don't mean web-only standards. In fact, I think most relevant web standards are already finalized (exluding maybe future versions of these standards). What I mean is stop attributing to all these greedy corporations the importance they think they have. They currently have the power people give them. If people stop giving them the power...

            We have to be able to implement the same stuff the commercial browsers do unless we?re trying to marginalize ourselves.

            It's not that we try to marginalize ourselves. If proposals like this go ahead in other fronts we'll have no choice but to be marginalized...

            FYI, the IETF [ietf.org] and ISO [www.iso.ch] have been standardizing on proprietary standards for years.

            But do you have to pay to implement them? Maybe you have to pay to claim 100% conformance to the standard, but you don't have to pay to mimic the standard. Compare this with a patent situation. You have no choice but to pay. To an open source project this means pretty much the death of it.

    • yeah, the Free/open source community should create an organisation that produces free and open standards, we could call it the Free Standards Foundation....do you think RMS would host it at the FSF?
      • The problem with the FSF (as I said in my post) is that RMS seems too obsessed, and I think he has some difficulties finding the middle term, even among free software people. What I think RMS lacks is the sensibility of a true judge/manager/whatever. He just doesn't know how to strive for unity...
    • I think, to a large degree, the wider web community has already resisted attempts to "proprietize" it, by actually writing code that works on all browsers. Sure, there are far too many sites that assume everyone uses IE on PC, but for the most part, developers and site owners recognize that giving 40% of your customers the finger isn't a viable business strategy.

      So while I think the W3C is showing a remarkable degree of contempt for the web by encouraging the adoption of standards that destroy the web, what I can't fathom is how these companies think it is in any way in their best interests to make the web less inclusive. Sure, they'd LOVE to squeeze out the competition on the production side, but these moves really just balkanize the end user. Agree to disagree and divvy up the spoils?

      The web, unlike TV, which always was a BROADCAST medium, is a genie that scares the hell out of the big culture companies. They would love to put it back in the bottle, but the adoption of standards won't help if the public ignores the end results.

      • Re:So... (Score:2, Insightful)

        by sealawyer (473327)
        Incorporating patented technology into web standards won't destroy the web, it will instead make it more easily exploitable by patent holders. The result will be more content on the web than ever before, but the usages will tilt towards commercial, money making uses where the costs of licensing can be justified.

        What you see as an enjoyable, free experience, others see as a wasted business opportunity that they could exploit if they could get the open source, and other little guys out of the way. Perhaps some of the participants have even more enmity towards open source than just competition.
  • Is W3C a Non-Profit? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by zentec (204030)

    The problem with this is not that anyone is being denied royalties for their patents, but rather the entire W3C becomes nothing more than a sales effort for those companies that comprise the W3C.

    At that point, if the W3C is a not-for-profit corporation, a legal challenge could be raised that it is no longer a standards body but a trade organization.
    • by KjetilK (186133)
      The W3C has, AFAIK, never pretended to be a standards body. It issues Recommendations, not standards. It is indeed a industry consortium. The reason for this is probably very complex, I'm not going into details.

      However, certain technologies have been standardized, mostly in cooperation with IETF, but there is also a ISO version of HTML [coverpages.org], so HTML is a standard. ISO-HTML is even stricter than W3C's HTML 4.01 Strict.

  • by wowbagger (69688) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:20AM (#2378019) Homepage Journal
    I find it interesting that the W3C is saying "Why didn't we publisize this? We did, you just didn't hear it!"

    I think this DOES show the power of public outcry - had /. not publisized this, it would have quietly slipped away like the DMCA did, and they would have said "but nobody complained at the time!" Instead, they got hammered and have had to back-pedal a bit.

    Just remember, don't just bitch on /. - bitch to the people that matter.
    • Yeah. BTW, I would recommend people to do what I've done to keep informed, and thus be able to post this story: Subscribe to the w3c-announce [w3.org] mailing list. I remember getting the announcement there, I just hadn't the time to read it then and there. I wish I had now...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "There's no point in acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complain and it's far too late to start making a fuss about it now."
    • This is just more of the same propaganda, every bit as misleading as the RAND euphemism. From their extension letter:

      The W3C and the Patent Policy Working Group represent a diverse range of opinions. This includes those who feel that all W3C Recommendations should be Royalty-Free, and those who believe that paying Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) fees to implement W3C
      Recommendations is sensible and even productive policy.

      W3C recognizes that a Royalty-Free environment was essential to the growth of the Web, and the contributions of the open source developer community have been critical to its success. W3C also recognizes that software patents exist (and patent issues have become more revalent with the growth of the Web), and ignoring them will do more harm than good. W3C is working hard to reach consensus in an area where there is an obvious tension, and to strike a balance among diverse interests.

      Is compromise possible here? No it is not, you either do or you don't base your standards on royalty free methods or you don't. I'd like them to show the harm done, and ask the company in question why they insist on causing such harm.

      So which group is in control?

      A RAND license is common among standards organizations.

      Everyone is doing it, why shouldn't we? Nice logic, but hardly expected from a standards body. Shame! Re read the Cox letter, and let them have it.

    • I find it interesting that the W3C is saying "Why didn't we publisize this? We did, you just didn't hear it!"

      Try searching for keywords in the Patent Policy Framework proposal, the original announcement and background and the Patent Policy FAQ, you won't find those documents. Why? My theory: they weren't on the web at the time W3C says they were. Corollary: enemy action.

  • IP is a VIRUS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ka9dgx (72702) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:21AM (#2378020) Homepage Journal
    Intellectual Property is a VIRUS. Once you accept the notion that you can license an idea, algorithm, or way of doing something (as opposed to the very narrow to a novel mechanical device), you've already given in.

    I'm all for the concept of protecting an author's right to prevent others from directly profiting from their work, but the whole concept of IP as something to be locked up is wrong, and I'll go so far as to say that it's a VIRUS, an evil MEME.

    Those who would allow patenting of software, math, etc... are just short sighted, and will eventually get reap what they sow.

    --Mike--

    • So true. If we were to assume that humanity has the potential to survive forever, IP is one of those things which will try and finish us. Do you really think we could have come this far if scientists, musicians and human beings bitched and moaned about IP and didn't publish their findings openly? NO WAY!!! Sure there are some people who might not have become rich, but the world is nonetheless a better place and they've helped others make better discoveries.

      That's what the goal of academia is. To learn/discover new things that will help us now, but also help the upcoming scientist, no matter where they are, to discover other things, to help them be more productive! IP desires to kill this. I hope and pray it fails!
  • My response (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ami Ganguli (921) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:23AM (#2378026) Homepage

    It's clear from the community response to the draft "W3C Patent Policy Framework Working Draft" that we aren't ready for a policy concerning how patent-encumbered technology can be included in W3C recommendations. There first needs to be an open and frank discussion of _whether_ patent-encumbered technology should be part of W3C recommendations at all. Given the lack of discussion over the general issue of software patents in web standards, this draft is premature.

    "Working Group Flexibility", the final "concensus point" given in the draft appears the be heart of the problem. The authors of the draft appear to agree that individual working groups should "have the flexibility to specify minimum licensing terms as part of their work". This statement may be self-evident to the authors, but it's by no means self evident to the Internet community as a whole. Any policy that takes this position as a starting point will meet heavy resistance.

    Since the very basic principles that form the basis for this working draft are at best contraversial, the appropriate response on the part of the W3C would be to withdraw the working draft temporarily and begin a consultation process to determine what role patents have in Internet standards. Until that question has been answered, discussion of detailed procedures is premature.

  • by Snowfox (34467) <snowfox&snowfox,net> on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:32AM (#2378065) Homepage
    If the w3c begins to support non-free standards, the free software crowd will look elsewhere. In turn, this just leaves the w3c as a "yes man" for Microsoft and a pocketfull of big money plugin authors. I suspect that, shortly after, w3c would find themselves optimized out of the development process.
    • This is true enough; the real issue seems to be that one of the greatest allies of OSS and an open Web appears to have defected to the other side.

      It seems to me that for-profit software developers like Netscape and Microsoft never had much use for the W3C. They made sure their products would be as compatible as necessary (and as incompatible as possible) with whatever else was in use, but they never paid more than lip service to real standards. The real supporters of the W3C mandate have always been the very people who stand to lose the most from this turn of events.

      It's disheartening to see the W3C shift from a defender of open access to a proponent of the 'building a wall makes you owner of whatever happens to be inside' mentality that really represents some of the most opportunistic, antisocial, and basest traits of humanity.

      The W3C's endorsement of this won't suddenly and fundamentally change the Web -- patented, pay-to-play technologies are already here and there is no shortage of those who seek to subvert and control the gifts that were given to everyone for their own selfish ends -- but it does mean that an important voice in advocating a free and open Web will now be shilling for those who believe that social conscience and responsibility aren't virtues but rather weaknesses to be exploited.
      • It seems to me that for-profit software developers like Netscape and Microsoft never had much use for the W3C. They made sure their products would be as compatible as necessary (and as incompatible as possible) with whatever else was in use, but they never paid more than lip service to real standards. The real supporters of the W3C mandate have always been the very people who stand to lose the most from this turn of events.

        If I were a cynic, I would suggest that someone at w3c realized that they could get wonderful funding from MS and friends for a while if they became a mouthpiece, claiming that "yes - of course, MS is supporting open standards - the open standard _is_ $financial_supporter's_product!"

  • by dbrower (114953) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:38AM (#2378098) Journal
    None of the moderated up comments are addressing the fact, pointed out in the response, that the IETF has a similar RAND position? --> it is already the case that the IETF -could- put patented, RAND technology in IPvX, and free software would be out of luck.


    -dB

    • As far as I can see, the difference is in the stated goals of the W3C. They state [w3.org] explicitly that one of the design principles of the Web is:
      1.Interoperability: Specifications for the Web's languages and protocols must be compatible with one another and allow (any) hardware and software used to access the Web to work together.
      And they further state that:
      These principles guide the work carried out within W3C Activities.
      This would seem to be at odds with incorporating patents into standards. As far as I can tell, the IETF doesn't include any such principle. What I can find [rfc-editor.org] about their mission seems to be far more pragmatic.

      I would say that the W3C is in a difficult position. They fear that they will be sidelined if they don't find some way to incorporate patented technologies into their standards. However, this sort of action has the effect of draining the credibility out of a standards body, because it divides the community which wishes to use the technology for which the body is responsible. I believe that the W3C should avoid ratifying anything which has patents attached, unless the patent-holder allows the technology to be used on a royalty-free basis.

      To make God laugh, tell him your plans.

    • by Ami Ganguli (921) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @11:37AM (#2378402) Homepage

      John Gilmore addressed this with an excellent submission [w3.org] (this guy is now officialy my hero - I want to be John Gilmore when I grow up :-).

      He makes the point that the IETF is actively moving away from RAND and towards RF. W3C appears to be going backwards.

    • That others may do unethical things does not make it ethical for you to do them.
  • by ZigMonty (524212) <slashdot@zigmon[ ... m ['ty.' in gap]> on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @10:45AM (#2378133)
    Sometimes the w3 comes out with something useful, clear and powerful. SVG [w3.org] and the original version of XML are examples of this. But they quickly forget their design goals and everything goes to hell. Example: XML is supposed to be a human readable, HTML like markup language for arbitrary data that is easy for a program to parse and understand. Then the committee does its thing and now with name spaces and the other additions, XML is about as readable as a binary file. W3's problem is that they are victims of feature creep. They take something simple and elegant and turn it into a monster. Features are good but they don't seem to know how to stop.

    This is yet another example. Patents are good. They help inefficient startups with a new idea survive long enough to be competitive. Before patents, companies kept everything secret to protect themselves and science was stifled. Patents allow companies to protect their IP but for this protection they must open their invention to inspection. I would love to see all the proprietary, closed algorithms be patented and open sourced. That way they could still protect their work, but people could learn from their code. Innovation would be much faster. But patents should NEVER be applied to open standards. The patent should be in the implementation of a standard not the standard itself. Patenting an algorithm is OK, patenting the data structure it's processing shouldn't be.

    W3 has forgotten its roots and its goals. They should be ashamed for even suggesting this.

    • Before patents, companies kept everything secret to protect themselves and science was stifled.

      Example please. This seems an unsubstantiated statement to me. I would provide my own unsubstantiated statement that the software industry was significantly more open and innovative before patents came into the picture.

      • Sorry, should have made myself more clear. I was referring to when patents were first introduced, period, not when they were first applied to software. IMHO most of the patents given to software, like the GIF/LZW patent, should never have been granted.

        We have to remember that it's not just software patents that currently suck. There are biotech firms trying to patent human genes. This is very similar to what I said in my previous post, after all DNA is a programming language for humans. These biotech companies are trying to patent a data structure (the gene) when they should only be allowed to patent their changes and the process use to implement the changes (the algorithm, OK I'm reaching).

        The current patent system as a whole sucks. A lawyer in Australia successfully patented the wheel (Newscientist, sorry no link) as an example of the stupidity of the patent office here.

        However patents are necessary. Patents help protect the company that spent good money to do the R&D. A company that doesn't spend millions on R&D but copies a competitor who does will almost always be able to undercut the other company. This way the real innovator goes broke. This is NOT what we want to happen. We DO, however, need to get some patent clerks that have a clue.

    • Sometimes the w3 comes out with something useful, clear and powerful. SVG [w3.org] and the original version of XML are examples of this.

      You think so do you? Perhaps you're unaware that the SVG working group is is already incorporating RAND [w3.org] into the draft SVG standard?

    • I considered SVG to be suffering from feature creep 18 months ago when I was directed to write a virtual plotter driver for it. Unless it's the first ever standard to get simpler over time, this is not a good example.
  • It seems to me that the W3C is going to get themselves in a catch-22.

    I honestly believe that they have the best of intentions in trying to address the fact that for the time being, open-source and patented software have to learn to play together in the same sandbox. The FAQ states pretty clearly:

    In developing a new Patent Policy for W3C activities, our goal is to affirm the Web community's long-standing preference for recommendations that can be implemented on an RF basis. Where that is not possible, the new Policy will provide a framework to assure maximum possible openness based on RAND licensing terms.

    It looks like both people win, open-source if you can, reasonable RAND if you can't. But I'm concerned about the point they make where working groups can switch from RF to RAND. We live in a work where software is built on top of other software -- could you imagine if everyone who ever worked on TCP/IP decided to get together and apply for a RAND license? (Granted, it's not the best example...but work with me) How could this possibly work? Furthermore, does every piece of software which used it under the RF license now have to convert to the RAND license? Obviously, this'll stifle the development community, and from reading the proposal, it doesn't seem to be clear how this situation is handled.

  • by mir (106753)

    One of the main problem of the Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) policy is that as soon as the fee is not 0, it effectively discriminates again Open-Source Software. So the only Really Authentically Non-Discriminatory policy is to ask for patents to be licensed for free if they are to be used by W3C recommendations.

    Another problem is: what happens to the Open-Source implementations that W3C used to provide as proofs that its recommendations worked? Are we supposed to trust closed source software now?

    I am afraid we are just reaping the logical consequences of Microsoft, Adobe and al. joining W3C and playing nice for a while: now they are trying to buy it.

  • The whole question on patent usage for standards is about what might be a reasonable fee. Simple, make the fee a percentage of the software product's added value. Just like in european VAT.

    This would allow for the use of standards in open source products, which is an essential requisite for a valid standard. Since they never cost anything, they would never need to pay patent fees.

  • Well, let me set this straight. I think that this step is basicly denying the reason for existence of standards body.

    Standards by their essence are supposed to unify means of doing the same things so people could cooperate

    When you take a step that will lead to creation of another standard for the same thing (GIF/PNG case?) or to deny the use of the standard to anybodywilling to cooperate, you are denying the two very reasons for creating a standard. This step of W3C makes no sense except as a means of self-destruction.

  • First of all, something like at least part of this proposal has to happen: evidentally, the W3C hasn't previously had a patent policy, and could have simply made a Recommendation that was patent-encumbered. Of course, there would have been an outcry, and they'd probably have had to just sit on it for twenty years, but it was possible.

    The RAND theory makes sense to me: if people will make money off of a standard, why shouldn't they have to pay the people who provided necessary research for it?

    However, I think the main issue is that there is an important segment of the community which is not going to make money by use of the standard. For this segment, there is no reasonable royalty, and, so long as the implementation does not enter the segement of the community which will make money from it, no reasonable restrictions.

    Proposal: include in the RAND section
    * The following license must be offered:
    if the licensee either does not distribute the implementation, or does not charge money for the implementation above the cost of its distribution,
    the licensee is granted a non-transferable license to use the patented technology in an implementation of the Recommendation, without any need to contact the patent-holder.

    (IANAL; this should be rewritten to contain all the magic words and remove the loopholes for commercial software producers)

    With this clause, developers would be able to implement the Recommendations, users would be able to use the implementations, but anyone selling even a free implementation would have to pay royalties. I have not actually checked whether this clause would be compatible with the GPL (which doesn't seem likely to really want a more general license to patents than this, anyway); it would have to be tweaked to be compatible, if not.
    • Since GPL/LGPL doesn't prohibit you from selling it, it also doesn't prohibit you from making money off of it from other venues. (I.E. Charging for media and support.)

      Using your idea, someone like Red Hat would have to pay the royalty which creates a nightmare morass of trying to keep track of their sales, etc and paying. They are not deriving direct income from the patent protected work (because they're NOT selling it...) but they still have to pay it- which I have a problem with.

      Royalties should be charged against the direct sale of something- just like it is in the real world. If I buy a patented device from Wal-Mart, they don't have to pay royalties on the item, the people who made it and sold it originally did. It should be the same way with software patents. Therefore, any Free Software/Open Source that is not "sold" but is distributed freely should owe NOTHING on royalties (since it's not being sold itself.)
  • The letter I sent (Score:2, Informative)

    by David Leppik (158017)
    This is the letter I sent. I considered saying "RAND SUCKS, you are EVIL, and W3 is a PUPPET of M$!!!!!" but this seemed more appropriate, true, and likely to be considered intelligently.

    The Working Draft was brought to my attention today, so please excuse what has been a rather hasty reading of the document. I applaud your efforts to have a clear process for discovering and handling patents as part of the W3 Process. However, I have some serious disagreements with the RAND licensing terms. The problem with RAND as it is currently written is that it does not allow for open source implementations.

    As a developer, I find open source tools to often be the most important ones I bring to a project. This is due to the ease with which they can be evaluated and brought into a project as well as the guarantee that I will be able to deploy them no matter what happens to the creator of the tools. They also place an unchanging floor on the deployment cost of that component and allow me to deploy without waiting for license negotiations to finish. In particular, Apache.org is usually the first place I and my coworkers go when we need third-party software. It is valuable to be able to prototype all parts on Linux and deploy on Linux, Solaris or Windows, depending on my client's needs.

    While I recognize the argument that RAND is tolerable for application layer services, I have to disagree. When I'm writing an application, I use components at all levels. Application layer software has a tendency to creep into server software for various purposes. For example, a graphics reader may be needed to convert an image to a different format or to modify the image.

    I am also concerned about developing standards which are usable world-wide. Users in many parts of the world do not have the money to pay for commercial software. Many countries do not have the legal infrastructure to enforce patent laws. Open source software allows them to be first-class citizens on the World Wide Web, both as content producers and consumers. It can also allow them to localize software. If all the software which uses a particular W3 standard is produced by a few primarily American companies, many languages and cultures will be shut out because localization wouldn't be cost effective. This makes the standard less of a world-wide standard and more of an industry consortium.

    I recommend one of the following changes:

    1. Explicitly spell out the situations under which a RAND license is acceptable. I think the license is acceptable when all components have RF alternatives. For example, a PNG file may be written or read using RAND algorithms-- and the best compression algorithms may even be proprietary-- but PNG files can be written using RF algorithms, while RF PNG readers can read any PNG file.

    2. Require that all RAND licenses allow anyone to create a royalty-free open source implementations of the Recommendation, or to release an implementation under such a license.

    My second recommendation is probably the more workable. Commercial, closed-source software would still require license payments. By using a restrictive license such as GPL, patent holders could maximize the use of royalty-paying implementations. It would, for example, allow me to prototype my software with a GPL-based library but only sell it using a commercial library. Care must be taken, however, to make sure that the licenses RAND would allow are truly open source and compatible with other open source software.

    Again, I thank you for your efforts to make a sound, workable patent policy and wish you luck.

    David Leppik
  • The last patent (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @12:23PM (#2378581) Homepage
    Almost the only patent now that affects most standard web content is #4,558,302, the "GIF patent". And that expires on December 10, 2002.

    I own and make money from software patents. But not from the Web, even though my unpatented "Nagle algorithm" is in every TCP implementation in the world. Patented technology should not be in standardized interfaces. It inhibits their adoption and causes the technology base to fork. That makes the "standard" non-standard.

    John Nagle
    Menlo Park, CA

    • Re:The last patent (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Lonath (249354)
      I own and make money from software patents.

      Ok, I want to understand this. You apparently write software, so you understand what software and algorithms are.

      Do you feel that software patents are patents on uses of machines? In other words, given a particular software patent, do you feel that it is possible to violate the patent merely by using a machine you already own..such as by typing in a certain string of bits? Do you feel that if I own a piece of property, I should be able to use it? For example, if I own a computer, should I be able to type any string of characters I want into the machine? If it happens to be hooked up to a network, I may end up writing a computer program and possibly compiling/distributing it? And if not, why shouldn't I be allowed to use my own property. Why should I have a piece of property that is perfectly capable of doing something but not be allowed to use it to do that because someone bought the right from the government to stop me from doing something with it? And I don't mean like driving my car into a crowd of people, this is the government telling me I must stop using my property because someone else bought the exclusive right to use the property for some purpose. Should I get compensation under the 5th amendment takings clause for the loss of use of my property?

      Thought question: Let's assume that lamps are new and that the idea of turning on a lamp is novel and nonobvious. Would you allow someone to get a patent for turning on a lamp that already exists? This is the simplest case of a software patent. You take a machine with circuitry that already exists and by flipping some of the user-configurable switches in the machine, you make the machine do something interesting (processing electricity to make a light shine). In other words, you could get a patent on the process carried out by the lamp, and that would prevent the lampmaker or anyone else from letting people know that they can turn on the lamp. Is this a good idea? Why should someone be able to get a patent that covers a process that can be carried out in a machine that already exists, and which can be started just by flipping some switches in that machine? I don't see how this can be justified.

      If software patents protect the "process" itself, without being linked to use on any machine, then isn't this just a pure idea which shouldn't be patentable anyway? When designing a algorithm (solving a math problem), you go through the same steps in figuring out what to do regardless of whether or not you write the solution down on paper, or you type it into a computer. Why should a solution to a math problem be protected somehow just because the person who solved it said that it could be used to solve a word problem (technical problem/engineering problem) and that the solution can be encoded into a machine that will do the arithmetic when real numbers are put in for variables in the algorithm. After all, that is all that computers do, they take solutions to math problems for which they have been given inputs, and they carry out the arithmetic of those solutions based on those inputs. Why should this be protected because a person says that a machine carries out the arithmetic instead of a person using a pencil and paper?

      I just don't understand what sort of perspective would make it seem ok to have software patents because the only two ways I can look at software, either as pure thought, or as a use of a machine don't seem like legitimate reasons to patent something. I can understand a patent on a real machine, but taking a machine that exists and flipping some switches on it is not making a new machine in my book.

      Do you have a different perspective on this? I am not swayed by arguments like "small companies need patents to survive" as part of this argument. That kind of a statement is appropriate for discussing the economic issues behind software patents without worrying about whether or not the underlying patent is pure thought or not. If you wanted to say that "regardless of whether or not these things are pure thought or not, there are economic issues..." then that's fine for that kind of an argument. However, economic arguments like that have no bearing on whether or not you are patenting pure thought or not.

      At any rate, I am sorry if I am being annoying and longwinded here, it's just that based on my math background, it is obvious to me that software patents are patents on pure thought (pure mathematics) regardless of whether or not someone says that they do the math "on a machine" or "on a network" or "with pictures" or "to solve this real world engineering problem" (which I call word problems...you wrap a math problem in words to represent a real-world situation).
      • Great post. If there is one single counter-argument I can say, it's that to turn on the lamp it doesn't take much ingenuity. However, to create a software algorith it takes a lot of ingenuity. So while both are taking a machine and doing something with it, one requires a lot of effort and investment and the other doesn't, that's why some people feel software needs a special kind of a protection while turning on a lamp doesn't.

        Of course this requires defining what is "ingenuity" and what is "lots of effort". I see your point though, I just thought this would be an interesting argument.
        • Re:The last patent (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Lonath (249354)
          I guess my problem with the whole idea is this. A computer is a complicated circuit. You flip a lot of switches to make it do something interesting. You would not give a patent on flipping one switch on a machine with a simple circuit...so what's the minimum number of switches/circuits you need to have before you allow patenting.

          As I said in my post...I am a math person. I see this as an induction argument in that if you cannot patent an arrangement of switches on all machines with

          Basically, the argument that things get complicated so we have to let them be patented is what I call the "OH MY GOD THE NUMBERS ARE SO BIG THAT I CANT UNDERSTAND THEM SO SOMETHING MAGICAL MUST HAPPEN!!!" argument which I think is complete bullshit and has no place coming out of the mouth of anyone who wants to be a "technical" person in any sense of the word. Use of that argument means the speaker does not have the ability to think abstractly, and needs to go back to school to learn how to think more gooder. :P
          • > Basically, the argument that things get complicated so we have to let them be patented is what I call the "OH MY GOD THE NUMBERS ARE SO BIG THAT I CANT UNDERSTAND THEM SO SOMETHING MAGICAL MUST HAPPEN!!!"

            You have to draw the line somewhere. It doesn't follow that a brain can't think because a few neurons can't and adding more neurons doesn't do anything magic - but we don't know exactly where consciousness arises. It doesn't follow that because Americans have the right to bear arms they have the right to bear nuclear missiles which are just bigger arms - but there are still arguments about what exactly gun controls should be in place. You can't say that a stillborn baby is not significantly different from a slightly late period (many fertilized eggs don't implant, or miscarry in very early pregnancy) - but there are still arguments about how late abortion should be allowed.

            Similarly the fact that we can't easily point to a line and say "things this side are obvious, things this side aren't" doesn't mean that all things are obvious.
  • by Belzebutt (312776) on Tuesday October 02, 2001 @01:07PM (#2378739) Homepage
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-7373745.html

    "The W3C proposal is backed by some of the largest technology makers in the industry. The working group that developed the proposal includes a who's who of technology: Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Philips, Apple, AT&T, IBM, ILOG, Nortel Networks, The Open Group, Reuters and Sun Microsystems, along with W3C affiliates."

    I work for one of the companies above, and I was a bit upset to see its name attached to all this. I found out who the person collaborating on that document is and called them up. It was interesting to chat with them and find out what exactly the above paragraph means.

    The representative of my company to the W3C didn't really seem aware of the backlash until after I told him about it. He stated that he was simply participating in this in an advisory role, not really strongly backing or opposing the proposal. This seems different from what the CNET article says: "The W3C proposal is backed by some of the largest technology makers in the industry."

    He simply said that my company's patent lawyers compared this new W3C policy to the policies of other standards group my company's regularly involved in, such as the ITU, and commented that this is similar. Since my company is used to working with ITU and other big standards bodies, they did not find it strange that this W3C proposal is similar to their policies. And that seemed to be the extent of their involvement, they're basically an observer, strictly in an advisory role, he didn't describe us as a "backer".

    The statement:
    "The W3C proposal is backed by some of the largest technology makers in the industry. The working group that developed the proposal includes a who's who of technology"

    ... seems grossly overblown and unnecessarily alarming to me after speaking to a person who actually represents one of these companies. Reading that paragraph it seems like a vast corporate conspiracy is supporting this.

    On the other hand, he told me that "RAND" is not defined in this W3C proposal any more than in most other standards bodies, and there, the definition is left up in the air and disputes are often settled in court. In addition, the participant I spoke to said that the issue of someone failing to disclose a pattent is a touchy subject right now at the W3C, so I take it there are not clear rules on that. My obvious personal recommendation is that RAND be clearly defined, and that failures to disclose patents be "punished" by making the standard RF.

    The problem seems to me more like a lack of precision rather than deliberate foul-play. Speaking of, my company's representative said that this proposal has been posted since August, and not kept secret like some suggested.

    If anyone here also works for one of these companies, you may want to call up your own representative, for interest's sake.
  • yet another letter (Score:2, Insightful)

    by uucp (459917)
    1) shall be available to all implementers worldwide, whether or not
    they are W3C Members;

    and

    5) may be conditioned on payment of reasonable, non-discriminatory
    royalties or fees;

    are contradictory claims. Hell, (5) is a contradiction in and of itself since anything that is conditioned on payment discriminates against those who can't afford it. Combined with (1), however, this leads to questions.

    Does "available to all implementers worldwide" include students? ... students who would love to create an implementation but can't without the risk of being sued? Are you actually saying that some Okie college kid is going to have to pay The Man if he wants to write a piece of software that implements get_file_over_network()? Great. Scratch "all implementers".

    Does "available to all implementers worldwide" include countries like Mexico who are already telling patent-holders where they can stick it? Or Cuba, where it is illegal in US law to do business? There is no way an implementer in Cuba could legally create an implementation of a standard based off of a patent held by a US patent holder -- not paying the patent holder would be illegal, and paying the patent holder would be illegal. Fuckin' great. Scratch "worldwide".

    If you're going to include this RAND crap, then it needs to have exemptions for students, universitites, the worldwide poor, governments and government agencies, and those who write software for the public good. But then, who's left?

    Why was this RAND stuff even included? Under what possible circumstance is the RF license deemed "not good enough"? The RF license already allows patented technologies to be included in a standard, and is already both "reasonable" AND "non-discriminatory". The ONLY difference between these licenses is the RAND cluse 5, and clause 5 is neither "reasonable" nor "non-discriminatory". Clause 5 is _inconsistent_ with RAND clause 1, and is therefore _unreasonable_. Clause 5 forbids some countries from creating implementations, and is therefore _discriminatory_. Scratch clause 5, scratch RAND, scratch all this contradictory garbage.

    -Brian
    • Does "available to all implementers worldwide" include countries like Mexico who are already telling patent-holders where they can stick it?

      This is the one thing I feared the most,and figured would happen sooner or later. Since it's so cheap and simple to write software that violates these patents, the rest of the world will ignore them, while the US drowns in a quagmire of lawsuits. In 50 years, the US will be behind the rest of the world (and yes I mean all kinds of "third world" countries of today).Sad.

      The funny thing is, this is another one of those "big American companies fucking over the rest of the world" issues, it's just that people don't realize it yet. The difference here is that it's a lot easier to ignore because there aren't those huge startup costs like you have with manufacturing drugs or other material goods.
  • A W3C standards effort that discovers a infringing patent should first try (after validating that a real problem exists) to the get the patent holders to licence it RF; failing that, then they should start over and remove/replace that technology from the standard. Do this a couple of times and the holders of bypassed patents will be more willing to properly licence them to avoid being marginalizd.

    It is better to have NO standard than a flawed, encumbered standard. The internet community can wait. And if members of that community are feeling impatient, then they can lobby the obstructing patent holders directly.

    Anything else than this firm stance will ensure a slide down a slippery slope, ending up where any but the most trivial standard will be patent encumbered and ususable in free software.

    (This was also mailed to www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org).

  • Ok, please help me understand. basically, the W3C is put into place to
    better serve the public interest. PUBLIC INTEREST, not corporate
    interests!

    here's a blurb from the W3C's own web page:
    " 1. Interoperability: Specifications for the Web's languages and
    protocols must be compatible with one another and allow (any) hardware and
    software used to access the Web to work together. "

    Whoops, looks like that will be one change that will need to be made.

    If the W3C is supporting the public interest, then why is the W3C PPWG
    created solely by big corporations? Companies like Microsoft, AT&T,
    Hewlett-Packard, Sun?
    This would be similar to America having the English write our Declaration
    of Independance after our victory. Come on W3C!

    why hasn't members from the EFF or
    FSF been included? Why are you letting money dominate this decision for
    Christ sake?

    maybe I should build a log cabin in British Columbia. i'm just too tired
    of corporate takeover, big business, greed, greed and greed.

  • I just found out about this to my dismay. I'll be reading the draft very closely. My first read of it was like reading a steven king book.

    What I really don't understand is why do these companies need the W3C for this? Go about and embrace and extend and let us opt to use them or not. I don't understand why they should go through the W3C.

    Ironically in its current form this could very well end the W3C. Who will want to make something compliant to a W3C standard if it involves liscensing a bunch of other software?

    Someone in my lug (trilug dot org) quoted this W3C spokeperson quote:

    "we really want your feedback, but it's
    no good sending us e-mail that just says 'DON'T!'. that doesn't give
    us anything to work with in terms of constructive critisism."
    For my feedback I'll recommend removing every reference and clause related to RAND liscened material and only permitting RFE (royalty free). Add "Only royalty-free liscensed submissions are permitted".

    I think the W3C is about to experience the slashdot effect firsthand!
  • Throwing in my 2-cents. Below is my response to the W3C Public Response. Remember to keep emailing them with your opinions and well formulated argumentation.

    -jon

    Patent Policy Working Group;

    I would like to start of by saying that I am pleased to see that, in the W3C response, you acknowledge the importance of the open source community and individual developer in the evolution of what is now the Internet. However, I disagree immensely with the assertion that continued and substantial growth may only come from a change in policy to use patented technologies. I also disagree that the W3C may sidestep the important ideological debate behind the exists of patents in general. The decisions you are faced with making are those decisions that will best benefit the entire community. Whether or not allowing patent enforcement best meets those goals is the same question posed by the original lawmakers. However, instead of entering an ideological debate I will only speak to the empirical evidence as it pertains to the Internet.

    Firstly, the W3C itself acknowledges the importance of the Open Source community in making the web what it is today. Not only is the Open Source community to be acknowledged, but ever first time web developer that contributed his part to the overall wealth of content available on the web. It was the availability of unlicensed technology that made this possible. If the telnet, FTP, or HTTP protocol had been patented during inception, they would have been quickly abandoned in favor of other unencumbered technologies. It has been observed time and time again that the industry will not support a communication medium that you must pay to use. The HTTP standard was observed for the very reason that it did allow everyone to communicate freely and without hindrance. To entrench yourself in a system under the pretense of free and open communication and then drastically change the rules is an extremely irresponsible practice. In fact, those encumbered standards that have been adopted by the community today have largely been because of an existing entrenchment of technology; not because of the objective validity of the standard. If the W3C tried this during its earlier years, the industry would have abandoned it. It is also questionable whether or not the W3C is indeed entrenched enough in the current system to be immune to an aggregate industry backlash.

    Secondly, we should take a look at the growth of the Web and the Internet today. The technologies being produced continue to expand on the content and quality of services provided without the need to introduce patent endorsement into public specification. To do so would not only limit the amount of technology being produced but would serve to further curtail the education of the masses who are trying to enter the industry. We must ask ourselves if the Internet really requires that public standards organizations endorse patented technologies. Most of us believe that answer to be no; the web will continue to experience continued growth without such action on the part of public standards bodies. In fact, we can see today how the prolific and unrestrained issuing of patents has actually disrupted the business of meaningful contributors to the industry (For example: The one-click shopping nonsense). If the W3C were to actually endorse the use of patented technologies, it would only serve to promote this current trend of abuse.

    The W3C also makes reference to other large standards entities in an attempt to justify this new policy. Specifically, in section 4 of the W3C public response, you cited section 10.3.2 of IETF's Internet Standards Process. However, one should make note of the preceding section (10.3.1) that outlines the rules of contribution.
    l. Some works (e.g. works of the U.S. Government) are not subject to copyright. However, to the extent that the submission is or may be subject to copyright, the contributor, the organization he represents (if any) and the owners of any proprietary rights in the contribution, grant an unlimited perpetual, non-exclusive, royalty-free, world-wide right and license to the ISOC and the IETF under any copyrights in the contribution. This license includes the right to copy, publish and distribute the contribution in any way, and to prepare derivative works that are based on or incorporate all or part of the contribution, the license to such derivative works to be of the same scope as the license of the original contribution.
    I have personally observed no such verbiage within the proposed W3C Patent Policy that indicates the sincere preference to use only technologies that are freely available for implementation by all. Such mentality can be cited frequently throughout the IETF draft.

    I again respectfully request that the W3C decide against the addition of the proposed Patent Policy.

    Jonathan Kennedy
    Programmer/Analyst - SIG Development
    jonathan.kennedy@billserv.com
  • Wasp [webstandards.org] reacts to the RAND policy, check it out!
  • I'm really getting irked now. The new FAQ contains the following text:

    What does the proposed policy change? It establishes a process that requires people to disclose to a Working Group that a specification in development may intersect with patented technology.

    This is a complete and bald-faced lie. The new policy has no such requirement. In fact, this is one of the specific objections that I raised in my email to W3C.

    The fact of the matter is that the new policy requires participants to circulate memoranda throughout their individual companies, using the same channels normally used for W3C information. These memoranda are requests for employees to respond from memory if they believe that that company owns a patent that would encumber a proposed W3C standard. If a positive response comes back, the contributor is bound to report the response to W3C. But nothing binds the employees to respond to the memorandum. Nothing binds them to read it. Nothing prevents the legal department from issuing an order that no such memoranda will receive positive responses. In fact, the PPWG's definition specifically states that these companies are not expected to do internal patent searches.

    In every company I've ever worked in (since the inception of W3C), in every company I've ever contracted for, W3C related memoranda are generally ignored by the legal and technical staffs. One or two people out of the tech staff might actually read the things, but most don't. More importantly, the people who are likely to know about such patents never read the memos.

    So the clause in the proposed policy that "requires" disclosure of patents, in truth, only requires that memos be sent. And that's the end of it.
  • Firstly, responses to this proposal be some people whose opinions may be influential:

    If I've missed anyone I shouldn't have, I'm sorry - blame tired eyes. I was particularly looking for comments by Brian Behlendorf, Eric Raymond, Larry Wall, Linus, Hakon Lie, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, but if they were there I didn't see them.

    OK, so what are we going to do about it?

    We have to face the fact that these days commercial companies have a lot of power on the Web. If AOL/Time Warner/Netscape, Microsoft, CNN, the movie studios and the big music companies get together to invent new, patented (in the US) Web technologies which won't interoperate with Open Source technology, then 90% of the Web using public will not notice. If they do notice, they'll blame our software for 'not working'.

    So we have to make a determined, co-ordinated grab for the moral high ground. I'm prepared to bet that W3C will be a bit shaken by the furore they've brewed up here, and I would endorse everyone else's suggestions that anyone who hasn't responded yet to the consultation document does so now, in calm, polite, grammatical, spelling-corrected - words, explaining why you see 'reasonable and non discriminatory' license fees as unacceptable.

    This may in itself be enough. I hope it will, but I think we should prepare against the possibility that it won't. What should we do? I believe we should take immediate steps to set up a new, independent, standards setting body for the Web spearheaded by people with a wide international reputation with the avowed intention of forking the standards base and maintaining free, open, standards for the Web. We should work to include the corporates who have already shown their commitment to Open Source into a broad coalition alongside the recognised open source projects, and seek to isolate Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft (the companies who actually authored this proposal).

    The long term objective is not to have two competing standards setting bodies: it is to hold over the W3C a credible threat of two competing standards setting bodies. In the face of that credible threat it's my opinion that W3C will rethink. If they don't, we would have to do this for real, but that is in my opinion very much a suboptimal option.

  • If the web is destined to be controlled and restricted through the patent process, why not produce an alternate technology licensed under the GPL? As many say the Web as we know it would become relatively worthless except to commercial interests (please, I'm trying to restrain my desire to insert sarcastic comments here) so why not 'abandon' it and turn to something else to fill the void?

    I know the argument is that most people are so used to the Web as it is now that an alternate might not have a a very wide user base. So what? The web is so bloody clogged with crap right now would that be a bad thing? Linux doesn't exactly rule the desktop but that doesn't particularly concern most Linux users, who're happy to leave the masses to their Windows. And it doesn't make Linux any less useful to those who choose to use it over MS products.

    If an alternative were developed and primarily employed by educational institutions (a big selling point: you could find interesting information without having to wade through tons of thoroughly useless stuff) then I, for one, would vastly prefer this FreeWeb, or PublicNet, or whatever you might want to call it, over the Web we have today.

    Leave *that* web to the folks who just *have* to have the latest Quicktime trailer, or RealPlayer audio clip, or whatever it is so many people waste their time on. I wouldn't miss that at all. And I wouldn't have to miss anything since there's no law that states that if I use one Web I can't use the other.

    (I realize this seems overly simplistic but I can't see any *technical* reason for why this couldn't be done. If anyone else can please enlighten me.)

    Max

Always think of something new; this helps you forget your last rotten idea. -- Seth Frankel

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