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O'Reilly Opposes W3C Patent Policy Framework

Oct 13, 2001, 01:06 (1 Talkback[s])

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In response to W3C's request for comment on its proposed Patent Policy Framework, W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) member O'Reilly & Associates has voiced it's opposition to the proposed framework, and called on the W3C to lead the Web community in fighting the imposition of patent rights on the Web.

The W3C's proposed policy on patents in standards has provoked a storm of criticism. Many developers and leaders of the Open Source movement have spoken out against RAND licensing and its potential threat to the development of the web, including Adam Warner, the Free Software Foundation, Bruce Perens, Richard Stallman, Tim Bray, James Clark, Simon St. Laurent, H. Peter Anvin, Len Bullard, Alan Cox, Eric S. Raymond, Jeremy Allison, John Gilmore, and more.

"The Web as a rich, evolving organism is on its way to the dustbin if the World Wide Web Consortium goes through with its proposed W3C Patent Policy Framework," says Andy Oram, O'Reilly editor, in an editorial posted on www.oreilly.com, "It would be understating the case to say that the World Wide Web is facing the biggest challenge of its history."

The following is the text of a letter written by Dale Dougherty, to the W3C concerning the proposed Patent Policy Framework:

"O'Reilly & Associates, as a member of the W3C, objects to the proposed Patent Policy Framework, dated August 16, 2001. We believe that the Web's success depends on fully open standards that can be implemented without restrictions by open source developers as well as commercial developers, large and small.

Therefore, we oppose RAND licensing as an option for W3C working groups that are developing standards. W3C work should be done exclusively on a Royalty-Free basis, as it has up until now. That is the only way the W3C can ensure that a Web standard truly serves the public good. We oppose RAND because requiring developers to pay is discriminatory.

We see the proposed patent policy framework as changing the rules of the game at the midway point. This especially affects independent developers who were the first to support the Web by implementing new technology based on Web standards. One need only look to the wide range of free XML tools to appreciate the tremendous contribution of these developers.

The proposed patent policy framework states that "Members invest significant research effort in the development of their own intellectual property portfolios, so are concerned about protecting and benefiting from proprietary technology they have developed or acquired." One must conclude that the W3C is really about maximizing the investments of its members rather than increasing the public benefit of the Web. The policy makes no mention of the interests of those independent developers who have contributed heavily to the success of the Web by investing in the development of non-proprietary technology. The proposed policy states that the Web community has "a longstanding preference for Recommendations that can be implemented on a royalty-free (RF) basis." It is much more than a preference; it is an absolute requirement.

Under the proposed patent policy framework, the W3C commits to keeping core standards royalty-free, but sets up the opportunity for "higher layer" standards to be chartered under RAND licensing. The W3C will be forced to decide whether a working group is working on a higher or lower layer. One reason the W3C exists is that the IETF once determined that the Web was a higher-level application, not deserving of the same consideration as its lower-level protocols. The distinction between high and low often proves meaningless and depends on the interests of those drawing the maps of the layers.

We recognize that the proposed patent policy does attempt to address the challenges that patents are presenting to collaborative standards development. We support the W3C's efforts to tighten the rules that force the disclosure of patents and IPR of those involved in the development of standards under the auspices of the W3C.

In fact, we'd like to see the W3C lead the Web community in fighting the imposition of patent rights on the Web. As an international organization, the W3C should take a global view of the public good and oppose the narrow, US-centric view that rationalizes software and business-method patents.

The Web is rooted in openness, much more radically so than any computer system before it. The W3C should champion this radical view as the reason why the Web flourished and the reason for the W3C's existence. It should not compromise its mission by granting its members the ability to impose special rights and restrictions on the Web community.

The W3C's responsibility to the entire world of web users must come before its obligations to its members. We would like to see Tim Berners-Lee affirm his commitment to completely open standards and use his position as the Director of the W3C as well as the inventor of the Web to defend the Web against academic, governmental, or commercial efforts to impose new restrictions. At the very least, the W3C should not be endorsing such restrictions, as the patent policy framework clearly does. W3C policy should seek to remove obstacles to openness rather than accommodate members who come bearing patent portfolios.

In summary, we believe that there are no reasonable restrictions that could be placed on Web standards, and the proposed patent policy framework should be rejected because it introduces RAND licensing. To do otherwise would erode the public's confidence in the W3C as well as alienate independent developers whose free and open source implementations are critical to the Web's ecology."

For more information, see:

O'Reilly's position on the proposed Patent Policy Framework http://www.oreillynet.com/cs/weblog/view/wlg/761

The proposed Patent Policy Framework draft itself: http://www.w3.org/TR/patent-policy/

Patents, Royalties, and the Future of the Web by Kendall Grant Clark
http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2001/10/10/patents-web-future.html

A Web of Bronze, a Medium of Lead: Web Content at Risk in W3C's Proposed Patent Framework, By Andy Oram
http://www.oreilly.com/news/oram_patents_1001.html