February 22, 2005

Larry Rosen et al. vs. OASIS on licensing

Author: Tina Gasperson

Intellectual property attorney and open source advocate Larry Rosen has issued a call to action to the free and open source software communities on what is yet another battle against "reasonable and non-discriminatory" patent standards.

The offending body this time is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), a consortium of big tech companies including Dell, IBM, Oracle, and Novell; big end users like General Motors, Xerox, and the American Bar Association; and universities and government agencies.

OASIS, according to Rosen, has quietly allowed its members to base information standards around RAND, or reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing fees. Many companies have adopted this policy of obtaining patent licenses that require a fixed fee per copy of a conforming program.

When it comes to open standards, RAND is bad for free and open source software because it discriminates against developers of small projects who often are volunteers and may not be able to afford even "reasonable" fees. When an algorithm becomes a standard, forcing these small-time developers to pay a fee to use it could effectively cut open source software based on open standards out of the picture.

Rosen says this is not the first time the free and open source software community has had to deal with RAND. "We fought hard for a royalty-free patent
policy in W3C and encouraged that standards organization to commit its
members to open standards," Rosen wrote in an open letter to the community, signed by dozens of free and open source software luminaries.

When W3C became convinced that it should adopt a better patent policy, the companies who had been pushing for RAND decided to migrate their efforts to another organization, Rosen told NewsForge.

But the eyes and ears of the open source world are everywhere, apparently. "They can run -- they can't hide," says Bruce Perens, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative and Senior Research Scientist for Open Source with George Washington University's Cyber Security Policy Research Institute. "We have to make it clear that if you want to be respected as a standards organization, that pandering to a competitive agenda will not do it."

Perens says the offending OASIS policy is a product of a members-only initiative, and so never opened itself up for public feedback. "They should know better," he says.

OASIS representatives were unavailable for comment.

Rosen is asking the free and open source software community to stand with him in opposition to the OASIS patent policy. "Do not implement OASIS standards that aren't open. Demand that OASIS revise its policies. If you are an OASIS member, do not participate in any working group that allows encumbered standards that cannot be implemented in open source and free software," he writes.

Concerned parties are encouraged to send comments to open@rosenlaw.com; Rosen says he will aggregate the comments and forward them to OASIS.


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