Alan Cox: W3C Patent Policy: Bad for the W3C, bad for business, bad for users
Sep 30, 2001, 16:49 (29 Talkback[s])
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Subject: W3C Patent Policy: Bad for the W3C, bad for business, bad for users
Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2001 15:42:01 +0100 (BST)
"The W3C was created to lead the Web to its full potential by developing
common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its
A lofty and great goal. A pity that the W3C now proposes to throw away its
very reason for existence.
And now we have a new much abused patent politics buzzword
I think the W3C should ask itself how allowing parties to use patents to
prevent community projects for blind access is "non-discriminatory".
Tim Berners Lee created an innovative environment about sharing and
referencing data. You plan to give large companies the power to stifle
It says something for the sad state of W3C that the proposal in question
has been allowed to progress, carefully arranged not to be visible to
the outside world. The dates of the short consultation period do not even
appear to have been adjusted in the light of September 11th. The proposed
shortening of the consultation period also appears to violate the W3C
rules, but then I am sure you don't care. I can smell the rot from here.
A patent-encumbered web threatens the very freedom of intellectual debate,
allowing only large companies and big media houses to present information
in certain ways. Imagine where the web would be now if only large companies
were able to use image files.
And large companies it is. I note the distinct lack of small companies on
the proposal in question. Within the ISO where the same things happen the
money simply moves in circles between big players. Accountants and lawyers
pay $100,000 sums back and forth as part of an accounting game that they
use to keep out smaller players.
I think we can also be sure that the kind of W3C members working this
little agenda have plans. I would bet on "Windows digitally-protected
uncopyable web pages" being one of them. Of course the protection they
really mean is "against reading by non IE users".
The W3C must ask itself whether it plans to continue the vision of Tim or
become another ITU, a bloated dinosaur that exists more as a corporate United
Nations of communication than a standards body.
If the W3C wishes to remain relevant to the people, to the small businesses
(the other 80%) and to the future of the web then I strongly suggest that it
o Requires non-disclosed patents are freely licensed for use
in that standard for all.
Without this a key infrastructure standard may suddenely be "owned" by a W3C
member who intentionally kept quiet to gain "non discriminatory" - but large -
license fees. The current wording encourages patent abuse. Licensing on a
RAND basis would only be appropriate for such a non-disclosed patent if
existing RAND licenses were on that proposal before final consultantion.
Regardless of the rest of the outcome all honest members will benefit from
such a stricter policy on non-disclosure of patents.
o Does not "approve" or "recommend" or allow its logo to be used
on any patent-encumbered item.
To do so will tarnish the value and reputation of the W3C name and logo. It
will also create confusion about what W3C standards indicate.
o Restricts its activities on patent-encumbered projects to providing a
forum where such people can work on patent encumbered projects to be
released under their own names only.
Here its activities would be in a consultative role, helping to guide these
bodies in areas of overall standards compliance and interpretation of W3C
goals. It is possible to further the web standardisation goal without
becoming part of those activities that are contrary to the original goals
of the W3C.
This would mean SVG became a multi-vendor consortium pushing a private
specification. But let's face it - with the patents involved - that is
precisely what it is. It may even be appropriate for SVG work to be
transferred to the ITU.
Finally we should all remember this. When patented W3C standards ensure
there is only one web browser in the world, its owners will no longer
have time for the W3C or standards.