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ACTION-756: Some more on the patent issues around CT

From: Francois Daoust <fd@w3.org>
Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 17:44:11 +0200
Message-ID: <483594CB.3040806@w3.org>
To: Mobile Web Best Practices Working Group WG <public-bpwg@w3.org>

We've been discussing that in a previous call:
http://www.w3.org/2008/05/15-bpwg-minutes.html#item01
... and I said I'd send a summary of that

Note it is indeed a summary to have a (hopefully) more readable view
of it and not really some more stuff on the issue. We got it right last 
week, I
would say.

In short: content-transformation proxy vendors should check internally 
for advice from their legal teams.


Context
-------
The Content Transformation (CT) Guidelines is, by charter, to be an
informative recommendation, as opposed to a normative recommendation.
Guidelines, Best Practices documents (such as our BP1 and BP2 docs) are
typically good candidate for informative documents, so that typically
makes sense.


Informative vs. normative
-------------------------
Differences between informative and normative recommendations are mostly
twofolds:

1. There cannot be such thing as a "conformance claim" to an
informative-only doc.
This point obviously doesn't imply that we cannot have implementations
that follow the document! In practice, we do need such implementations
to move out of the Candidate Recommendation step.
It means we cannot construct any legal conformance claim around the doc.

For instance, one may say it followed the informative "Mobile Web Best
Practices", but one claims conformance to the "mobileOK Basic Tests"
normative one.


2. From the point of view of the patent policy [1], "Essential Claims"
[2] only apply to normative content, and thus don't apply to informative
recommendations.

For normative recommendations, members of the WG must exclude such
"essential claims" within a given timeframe (defined in the Patent
Policy document [3]), otherwise the patents are basically licensed under
the W3C Royalty Free license (in clear, anyone may use them for free to
conform to the recommendation if the member that holds such a patent
does not exclude it in time). Note the Patent Policy is to protect
ourselves against ourselves. Any existing patent in the world obviously
does not fall under the W3C Royalty Free license when the recommendation
is published!

For informative recommendations, members of the WG are no longer
required to exclude anything since, by definition, there is simply
nothing to exclude.


Back on CT
----------
In the case of CT, the doc turns out to be more normative-like, with
"MUST", "SHOULD", "MAY" statements. We thought it would be better to
switch to a normative doc, to be able to explicitly define what a
conforming proxy would be.

In practice, switching from informative to normative requires a change
in the charter.
This basically means to re-create the group.
That's a somehow heavy process for a small change.

In terms of time frame, it means:
- around 1 month to re-charter to group
- 150 days to wait between the time when we publish the document as a
normative working draft, and publication as Proposed Recommendation, as
the regular "exclusion period".

This postpones things a bit, especially if we decide that we want to do
that later this year!


Guidelines are guidelines
-------------------------
I'd say the guidelines are still that: guidelines.

It would be good to be able to claim conformance against the guidelines,
but that's not mandatory.

As for patents, well, that could be the problem, but, as far as I can
tell, we do not go into details on how a content transformation proxy is
to work internally, and although we make use of strong "must", "should"
statements, we did not create any new mechanism to do so.

I doubt the two-steps tasting approach (sending a first request with the
original headers then with altered ones if needed) may be patented, but
then lawyers are known to do strange things so I would not be that
surprised if I were arrested in the street because I am chewing a gum in
a patented way and am not licensed to do that.


References
----------
[1] http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-Policy-20040205
[2] http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-Policy-20040205/#def-essential
[3] http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-Policy-20040205/#sec-Exclusion


Francois.
Received on Thursday, 22 May 2008 15:44:48 UTC

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