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
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
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."