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W3C Patent Board Recommends Royalty-Free Policy 119

Posted by Hemos
from the making-the-smart-choices dept.
Bruce Perens writes "A year ago, the World Wide Web Consortium proposed a policy to allow royalty-generating patents to be embedded in web standards. This would have been fatal to the ability of Free Software to implement those standards. There was much protest, including over 2000 emails to the W3C Patent Policy Board spurred on by a call to arms published on Slashdot. As a result of the complaints, I was invited to join W3C's patent policy board, representing Software in the Public Interest (Debian's corporation) -- but really the entire Free Software community. I was later joined in this by Eben Moglen, for FSF, and Larry Rosen, for the Open Source Initiative." Bruce has written more below - it's well worth reading.
After a year of argument and see-sawing, W3C's patent policy board has voted to recommend a royalty-free patent policy. This recommendation will be put in the form of a draft and released for public comment. There will probably be a dissenting minority report from some of the large patent holders. Tim Berners-Lee and the W3C Advisory Committee, composed of representatives from all of the consortium's members, will eventually make the final decision on the policy. My previous interaction with the Advisory Committee and Berners-Lee lead me to feel that they will approve the royalty-free policy.

The policy will require working group members to make a committment to royalty-free license essential claims - those which you can not help infringing if you are to implement the standard at all. There is also language prohibiting discriminatory patent licenses. The royalty-free grant is limited to the purpose of implementing the standard, and does not extend to any other application of the patent. And there is a requirement to disclose whether any patent used, even a non-essential one, is available under royalty-free terms, so that troublesome patents can be written out of a standard. The limitation of the scope-of-use on patents, and some other aspects of the policy, are less than I would like but all that I believed we could reasonably get. Eben Moglen may have some discussion regarding how GPL developers should cope with scope-of-use-limited patent grants from other parties. For now, it should suffice to say that while this is less than desirable, is will not block GPL development.

I'm not allowed to disclose how individual members voted, but I'll note that the vote did not follow "friends-vs-enemies" lines that the more naive among us might expect - so don't make assumptions.

Now, we must take this fight elsewhere. Although IETF has customarily been held up as the paragon of openness, they currently allow royalty-bearing patents to be embedded in their standards. This must change, and IETF has just initiated a policy discussion to that effect. We must pursue similar policies at many other standards bodies, and at the governments and treaty organizations that persist in writing bad law.

For me, this process has included two trips to France (no fun if you have to work every day) and an appearance at a research meeting in Washington, a week in Cupertino, innumerable conference calls and emails, and upcoming meetings in New York and Boston. That's a lot of time away from my family. Larry Rosen has shouldered a similar burden while nobody has been paying him for his time and trouble, and Eben Moglen put in a lot of time as well. Much of the time was spent listening to royalty-bearing proposals being worked out in excrutiating detail, which fortunately did not carry in the final vote. We also had help from a number of people behind the scenes, notably John Gilmore, and the officers and members of the organizations we represent.

I'd like to give credit to HP. Because I was representing SPI, and HP had someone else representing them at W3C, I made it clear to my HP managers that they would not be allowed to influence my role at W3C - that would have created a conflict-of-interest for me, as well as giving HP unfair double-representation. HP managers understood this, and were supportive. During all but the very end of the process, HP paid my salary and travel expenses while they knew that I was functioning as an independent agent who would explicitly reject their orders. Indeed, HP allowed me to influence their policy, rather than the reverse. This was the result of enlightened leadership by Jim Bell, Scott K. Peterson, Martin Fink, and Scott Stallard.

For most of the existence of Free Software, technology has been of primary importance. It will remain so, but the past several years have seen the emergence of the critical supporting role of political involvement simply so that we can continue to have the right to use and develop Free Software. I do not believe that we will consistently be able to code around bad law - we must represent what is important about our work and involve ourselves in policy-making worldwide, or what we do will not survive. I hope to continue to serve the Free Software Community in this role.

Respectfully Submitted

Bruce Perens
"
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W3C Patent Board Recommends Royalty-Free Policy

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  • by ebbomega (410207) on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:02AM (#4401771) Journal
    Wow.... I remember when the "Read More" option was used to truncate a lot of posts like this.

    Would it hurt us to give a brief description of the article so it doesn't become so painful on my poor little 13" VGA monitor?
  • by NineNine (235196) on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:08AM (#4401792)
    ... the W3C has been a group without any kind of power for a long time. They've been suggesting technical web standard since the Web began, but they've been largely ignored for at least the past 3-4 years. I doubt that this recommendation will be any more than that, a recommendation. I really don't think that anybody of importance (in this case, the US patent office) really pays them much attention any more. Hard to hear, but that's reality.
  • Perens (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GigsVT (208848) on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:09AM (#4401793) Journal
    It interesting to see mature responses to differences of opinions with your employers. Other recent high profile employer/employee splits *cough*bero*cough* showed a real lack of maturity.

    Perens is a model of how to influence people to your point of view, and it sure doesn't involve leaving in a hissy fit when your companies views diverge from your views.
  • Better than HDTV (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shumacher (199043) on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:24AM (#4401837) Homepage
    First:
    This is the largest front page post I've ever seen...

    Second:
    HDTV has the Dolby AC-3 technology in the standard. That means Dolby will get a cut off of every TV with a built in digital tuner and every HDTV tuner box. It also means royalties on many broadcast tools. I don't know the license regulations, but it may also mean a cut on every show that uses AC-3. Sucky, but also, time to buy Dolby stock.

    Just imagine if the web had turned out this way. Companies keep trying to move things into their corner, even without standards bodies helping. What is Quicktime became the video standard on the web? I love the format, but it's also been hell getting Linux to support it. The web has been burned this way before [unisys.com]. Everything will be okay, as long as we burn back [burnallgifs.org].
  • by Saint Aardvark (159009) on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:37AM (#4401886) Homepage Journal
    And thanks for all your hard work on this.
  • 719 Words long (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hey! (33014) on Monday October 07, 2002 @08:43AM (#4401917) Homepage Journal
    Or the equivalent of a short newspaper article or op-ed piece (not even a Sunday supplement article). A reading speed of about 250-300 words per minute is typical of the general population, so we're talking about less than three minutes -- or less than the length of a TV commercial break, if that's a more familiar benchmark for you.

    If you can't spare three minutes on a reasonably well written first person account of such an important issue, then you have to ask -- who is telling you what to think on this topic?
  • by Compact Dick (518888) on Monday October 07, 2002 @09:00AM (#4401986) Homepage

    In addition to what TheRealMike has stated, you must realise that a greater number of website authors are becoming increasingly aware of the existence of W3C standards, and the benefits of using them - easier code maintenance, smaller filesizes, quicker downloads, greater consistency over a wide range of browsers and platforms [let's leave NS 4.x out of this, okay?], and most importantly - standards that are actually useful and very well-codified.

    I use XHTML 1.1 + CSS for most websites I create for my friends, although I may temporarily switch to HTML 4.01 transitional for certain cases - use the best tool for the job, that's my motto.

    Finally, there are nuts like me who will go out of their way to help the adoption of useful standards. In fact, I will soon be conducting a survey among website designers in my area to assess their knowledge and application of these standards, and spread the word.

    Now only if Slashdot gave us an option to receive pages in valid XHTML 1.1 + CSS instead of the bloated, slow-to-render TABLE tag-filled clutter that it is right now.
  • Re:Free Software (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 07, 2002 @09:15AM (#4402040)
    Black, white, colours. Liberation lies in the colourless Public Domain.
  • by Compact Dick (518888) on Monday October 07, 2002 @09:23AM (#4402088) Homepage

    Virtually all of them save IE and Opera implement the specs pretty well.

    I agree with the former, but I must point out Opera has one of the strictest HTML engines out there, and it adheres to W3C standards very well. Its CSS support is just as good and well-featured. OTOH, IE has enough bugs in its rendering engine as to discourage some useful features [such as negative margins in CSS].

    I feel Microsoft will continue this trend of marginally improving IE with each incremental release, but not as to be fully standards-compliant. This will ensure more people are on the upgrade treadmill, and they get more opportunities to sneak in that wonderful DRM software onto your machine.

    You are aware that upgrading IE also updates your entire OS, don't you?
  • No fat lady yet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ignatzMouse (447031) <ignatzmouse@p[ ]x.com ['obo' in gap]> on Monday October 07, 2002 @09:39AM (#4402186) Homepage
    This is not a done deal. The groups that oppose this still have a few cards to play and I would not underestimate their skill at playing them.
  • Nonsense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FreeUser (11483) on Monday October 07, 2002 @10:39AM (#4402626)
    Did Bruce say "Free Software Community"?
    There's still hope that he'll join the light of Free Software rather than the slightly off white of Open Source.


    Look, I'm a rather strong advocate of Free Software, indeed of software freedom in general. I try to remember to say (and write) GNU/Linux, and even succeed in not forgetting the GNU as often as not, out of respect for RMSes wishes even if I think his making a big deal out of it is chasing the wrong goal to some degree, and despite the wretched flames from those who would like to sweep RMSes 95% contribution to the core Linux-as-a-UNIX-like operating system under the rug, and claim notoriety for much of his work.

    I donate rather generously to the EFF and the FSF, I support and use the GPL in my own work, and am even working on a Media equivelent of the GPL for my more creative literary and media projects, and I tend to value the definition of free software over the definition of open source licenses which are often, IMHO, too liberal in allowing restrictions on the user/customer.

    All that having been said, calling Open Source "off-white" (American, perhaps a general English, idiom for 'not quite legitimate', also 'off-color') is utterly bogus.

    Open Source has played an important role in bridging the cultural divide between software freedom and the old school, proprietary 'you get what you pay for (and nothing else)' mindset that, despite its trivial disprovability in most areas of life, persists to a remarkable degree among decision makers in many walks of life. Open Source is a stepping stone, a rhetoric that exposes some of the important benefits of free software (peer review and a rigorous scientific method vs. 'secret formula' methodologies, or as I like to put it, 'the free software folks are chemists sharing knowledge, while the proprietary software folks are alchemists hoarding secrets, and everyone knows which approach yields progress and which does not').

    Many people coming from a proprietary mindset aren't able to make the complete leap from an information hoarding, toll-charging for every mile travelled mindset to the notion of software freedom, complete with all its ideals and, to the rest of us, obvious advantages of synergy, exponential cooperative growth and development of projects, and so on, but these very same people can and do make the leap toward understanding why the scientific method of sharing knowledge and submitting to rigorous peer review of code does lead to better software. It isn't the only aspect of free software that leads to better software, and it may not even be the most important factor, but it is a factor that they can understand. Once one has grown accustomed to these factors, and has moved one or more project to an open source or free software platform as a result, one begins to experience and learn the other advantages of free software (freedom from orphaned software, freedom from vendor coercion, freedom to set one's own upgrade cycle and timetable, freedom to fix libraries one's work depends on, rather than waiting months for the vendor to get around to it, freedom to leverage the work of others into getting a project out the door in a fraction of the time it would have otherwise taken, in short, freedom to use technology to serve one's business interests, rather than one's vendors' business intersts).

    I have witnessed this metamorphesis in at least a dozen people, who came from the aforementioned 'free means worthless' mindset to adament advocates of free software, and in each case their first, rudimentary understanding came via the open source rhetoric, and in each case their understanding did not stop there. RMSes fears that open source would blind people to free software are IMHO largely misguided, as is the entire conflict between the two movements.

    Open source is an important stepping stone for those in the proprietary world, a step they can take relatively easilly, and can understand, but one which generally does lead to an understanding of the value of software freedom, not through rhetorici or evangelism, but through personal experience.

    So, while the differentiation between Free Software and Open Source is important, this bickering between the two is quite asinine and counterproductive, and while software freedom may encompass a more complete and accurate picture of the benefits offered by free software than Open Source does, Open Source bridges the divide and helps make those advantages available to many who otherwise would have never taken the opportunity. In so doing Open Source provides an important, some might argue critical, service to the Free Software community, and despite any disagreements between the two, Open Source is most certainly not 'off-white.'

    I supposte that is a long winded way of saying "can't we just all get along" or perhaps "go away Microsofty, we don't need no stinkin' agent provocatueurs around here." In any event, however you interpret it, let's put this silly 'open source' vs. 'free software' bickering behind us, recognize the importance of both, and move on to enjoying the marvelous digital world the software freedom they help protect has created for us.
  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday October 07, 2002 @12:30PM (#4403561) Homepage

    Thanks for the representation, Bruce.

    One point you might make to the corporate types to get them to side with royalty-free is that it's in their interests. Their usual method of dealing with patents in their way is to find a patent they hold that the other guy infringes on and use that as leverage to get a no-cost cross-licensing agreement. A couple of big cases lately, eg. the JPEG stuff, have involved patents held by people whose sole product is the patents they hold. They don't make anything, therefore they don't make anything that could infringe on any other patents, so there's no reason for them to cross-license. More and more, the corporations are going to be dealing with patents held by people who the corporation won't have any leverage with. And as more patents are issued, a corporation will more and more often be on the wrong side of the equation, ie. they'll be the ones defending against patent enforcement instead of being the ones doing the enforcing. Royalty-free may cost them a bit on the patents they hold, but non-royalty-free would seem to potentially cost them a lot more on patents they don't hold and can't get a cross-licensing agreement on.

  • Strategic Openness (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gerry Gleason (609985) <[gerry] [at] [geraldgleason.com]> on Monday October 07, 2002 @01:09PM (#4403865)
    Very well put. I, and I'm sure many others, are right there with you on this. Freedom is the goal, and openness is an important step. Don't try to make all your arguments at once, it just confuses them. It's important to think and move strategically (oops, maybe I shouldn't give this away ;-), after all MS does.

    Many people coming from a proprietary mindset aren't able to make the complete leap from an information hoarding, toll-charging for every mile travelled mindset to the notion of software freedom, complete with all its ideals and, to the rest of us, obvious advantages of synergy, exponential cooperative growth and development of projects, and so on, but these very same people can and do make the leap toward understanding why the scientific method of sharing knowledge and submitting to rigorous peer review of code does lead to better software. It isn't the only aspect of free software that leads to better software, and it may not even be the most important factor, but it is a factor that they can understand. Once one has grown accustomed to these factors, and has moved one or more project to an open source or free software platform as a result, one begins to experience and learn the other advantages of free software (freedom from orphaned software, freedom from vendor coercion, freedom to set one's own upgrade cycle and timetable, freedom to fix libraries one's work depends on, rather than waiting months for the vendor to get around to it, freedom to leverage the work of others into getting a project out the door in a fraction of the time it would have otherwise taken, in short, freedom to use technology to serve one's business interests, rather than one's vendors' business intersts).

    Sorry to include so much, but I don't think this can be emphasised enough. Open Source strengthens Free Source, and this is why. It's also central to my criticism of RMS's stance on LGPL. I was trying to find a link to his position paper on this and instead I found this [topology.org] which is even more disturbing. From this link:

    Stallman recently tried what I would call a hostile takeover of the glibc development. He tried to conspire behind my back and persuade the other main developers to take control so that in the end he is in control and can dictate whatever pleases him. This attempt failed but he kept on pressuring people everywhere and it got really ugly. In the end I agreed to the creation of a so-called "steering committee" (SC). The SC is different from the SC in projects like gcc in that it does not make decisions. On this front nothing changed. The only difference is that Stallman now has no right to complain anymore since the SC he wanted acknowledged the status quo. I hope he will now shut up forever.

    The morale of this is that people will hopefully realize what a control freak and raging manic Stallman is. Don't trust him. As soon as something isn't in line with his view he'll stab you in the back. NEVER voluntarily put a project you work on under the GNU umbrella since this means in Stallman's opinion that he has the right to make decisions for the project.

    Now, I'm all in favor of giving credit where credit is due, and clearly Stallman has done a lot, but it doesn't give him the right to stomp on people who are contributing to the GPL world.

    The GPL is brilliant in a number of ways, most important being the freedom it brings to software. But get this, Stallman fanatics, once he put it out there, he doesn't own it. The most important aspect of the GPL is that it builds trust that no one will be able to take private advantage of what you have freely given.

    I have no problem with anyone calling it GNU/Linux, but to insist on it is to try and control things. Do we need language police? Let's be clear, RMS does not deserve credit for 95% of Linux, although his actual contribution is substantial. I'd like to know what percentage of the developers who actually contributed code under GPL whether under FSF or otherwise actually support what RMS is trying to do with it.

    All this bickering needs to stop, and stop now. It is unproductive and damaging. Isn't there anyone close enough that can get this accross? Are all his associates sycophants? We need to make the tent bigger, not smaller.

    Openness is on the road to freedom. Again from the parent comment:

    So, while the differentiation between Free Software and Open Source is important, this bickering between the two is quite asinine and counterproductive, and while software freedom may encompass a more complete and accurate picture of the benefits offered by free software than Open Source does, Open Source bridges the divide and helps make those advantages available to many who otherwise would have never taken the opportunity. In so doing Open Source provides an important, some might argue critical, service to the Free Software community, and despite any disagreements between the two, Open Source is most certainly not 'off-white.'

    Stop fighting with our friends please, and keep up the good work.

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