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Opposing patent policy

From: Jonathan S. Shapiro <shap@eros-os.org>
Date: Mon, 1 Oct 2001 01:03:17 -0400
Message-ID: <005501c14a36$9c8bc6a0$021010ac@vmware>
To: <www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org>
I am writing to strongly oppose the new patent policy. I apologize that this note arrives so late.

W3C has had impact in part because it has promulgated open standards. By "open", I mean standards that can be implemented by anyone, freely, and used in any fashion that the implementor can conceive.

The RAND licensing idea is nothing more or less than an endorsement of closed standards. Under a RAND license, a contributor to a standard places all third parties on a second class footing, because the other users of the standard do not receive royalty terms identical to those of the contributor. That is, the entire notion of a non-discriminatory, royalty-based license is self-contradictory. Only a royalty-free and charge-free license can possibly be non-discriminatory.

Other institutions and standards committees have been through this exercise many times over the years. Where patent policies have been successfully adopted, they have invariably been of the form:

  if (participant) has a patent that would preclude reasonable and straightforward implementations of standard XXX, they agree to grant a license to that patent, without fee or royalty, to all implementors.
The X11 process is a good example -- many of the participating companies donated their patents to the X Consortium, specifically to avoid the possibility of a closed standard.

The Java process is a good contrast. The Java licensing terms effectively preclude a developer from porting the standard Java runtime to a new environment without prohibitive cost. While the issue with Java is not patents per se, the problems arising from royalties are similar. In effect, Sun maintains a discriminatory advantage.

In my opinion, there is a strong possibility that if W3C ever adopts a RAND policy for an actual working group, it will lose its mandate as a standards body. Both because of the issues inherent in RAND policies, and also because of the danger of such a policy to W3C, I strongly urge that W3C abandon this proposal.


Jonathan S. Shapiro
Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science
Johns Hopkins University

(Formerly) Manager, Software Design
HaL Computer Systems
Received on Monday, 1 October 2001 01:11:39 GMT

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