October 12, 2001

O'Reilly opposes W3C patent policy framework

Author: JT Smith

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

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