May 24, 2003

Michael Tiemann on the new W3C patent policy

Jeremy Hogan writes:
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published its long-awaited Patent Policy. This ground-breaking policy delivers two immediate benefits:

(1) a safeguarding of the integrity of W3C standards from covert or overt control via patent claims, and

(2) an assurance to the open source community(*) that W3C standards are safe to implement. By ratifying this policy (as opposed to the one it had proposed two years ago), the W3C has advanced both its own mission, to promote the widest adoption of Web standards, as well as improving the potential for economic benefit of all those who depend on such standards.

This great goal was not easily achieved. In the dog days of August 2001, when much of the world was on vacation, the W3C quietly published a new proposed patent policy that would permit W3C standards to include software patents, provided those patents were licensed under RAND (so-called "reasonable and non-discriminatory") terms. After half of the short six-week comment period had elapsed, only one comment had been received. The open source community was close to defaulting on the most important issue after freedom of source: the ability to freely interoperate via the Web.



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