W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org > October 2001

W3C sows seeds of its own destruction.

From: Gene McKenna <mckenna@bluedot.com>
Date: Mon, 1 Oct 2001 01:10:51 -0700
To: <www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org>
Message-ID: <CMEJKBPDBAKLFFHOAACGGENMCBAA.mckenna@bluedot.com>
Another agrees with Alan Cox.

For those who don't want to dig through the whole W3C proposal, here
is their basic justification for this idea. In the spirit of Noam
Chomsky, I have attempted to translate what they are really saying. I
think the agenda is pretty clear.

<w3c> The sine qua non of the Web revolution is the open standards
   environment on which the Web is built and continues to grow. The
   Web's open technical standards have developed through the open,
   collaborative process created by the World Wide Web Consortium. As
   Web technology has become more commercially critical and the impact
   of software and business process patents are felt more strongly in
   the Web development arena, W3C believes it is necessary to adopt a
   more comprehensive policy and process for addressing the
   relationship between the open technical Recommendations developed
   by W3C and patent rights held by both W3C Members and others.

<translation> "sine qua non" means "something absolutely indispensable
   or essential." (source: www.m-w.com) But the W3C can, in just two
   more paragraphs, show us that this revolution is now over and the
   new standards will be "nil sine numine" (nothing without the divine
   will). We know who the divine are and it's not you and me.

<w3c> The root of the challenge posed by patents in any standards
   arena is that participants in a standards body will be unwilling
   and unable to work collaboratively if, at the end of the process,
   the jointly-developed standard can only be implemented by meeting
   licensing terms that are unduly burdensome, unknown at the
   beginning or even the end of the design process, or considered
   unreasonable. At the same time, many 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

<translation> Michele Herman (Microsoft), Scott Peterson (HP), Tony
   Piotrwoski (Philips) and Helene Plotka Workman (Apple) and others
   who form the W3C can't work together on a standard because they
   really would rather patent the technology. In fact, sometimes one
   of them even stabs the others in the back at the last minute by
   saying "Thank you for helping us develop this standard and for
   helping us promote it. Now guess what. We've got it patented! Ha Ha

   What they want to do is get each other to agree ahead-of-time that
   this or that standard is going to be patented. They'll probably
   take turns deciding which company gets to own the patent. To
   justify this, they say, it's expensive to do this research.

   I'm sure research like this is expensive, but if expensive research
   is worth it, the market will accept it and make it a defacto
   standard. If the research is patented the research has to be even
   more valuable to the public or it won't be accepted as a
   standard. But no argument is given to the effect that we will get
   more or better research done if that research comes with the
   blessing of the W3C. They just want to get paid for the research
   they are doing. That's not objectionable, but trying to get paid by
   hijacking a previously open standards body has the ugly smell of a
   meat packer bribing the USDA.

<w3c> In developing a new patent policy for W3C Activities, our goal
   is to affirm the Web community's longstanding preference for
   Recommendations that can be implemented on a royalty-free (RF)
   basis. Where that is not possible, the new policy will provide a
   framework to assure maximum possible openness based on reasonable,
   non-discriminatory (RAND) licensing terms.

<translation> When our large coporate partners give the signal, we
   will march in step, salute, and endorse a patented technology as
   part of a standard.

<w3c> The second decade of the Web has already demonstrated that
   patents will be a factor in the ongoing development of the World
   Wide Web infrastructure. A variety of factors suggest that the Web
   will be increasingly affected by the patent process. The Patent
   Policy Working Group (PPWG) has identified the following
   significant factors:

   Convergence: The Web had its origins in the personal computer
   software industry, where patents had seldom been a factor in
   development dynamics. However, as the Web comes into contact with
   the telecommunications, broadcast media and consumer electronics
   industries, the tradition of patenting technology from those
   industries will likely be carried over to the Web.  Rise in patent
   issuance: Patent offices, led by the U.S. PTO, are issuing patents,
   especially in the software sector, at record rates.  Experience of
   Internet-related standards bodies: A number of standards bodies
   including W3C, IETF, the WAP Forum, and others, have encountered
   potential barriers to acceptance of standards because of licensing
   requirements perceived as onerous.  Popularity of business method
   patents: Beginning with the State Street decision in the United
   States and continuing through high-profile litigation between
   Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com, business method patents have
   become increasingly significant factor in the ecommerce
   marketplace.  These factors make it clear that the W3C must have a
   clear and effective policy to address the inevitable increase in
   patent issues that will come before individual Working Groups and
   the Membership as a whole.  </w3c>

   Beyond the traditional software companies, lots of other big media
companies also want patents.

   Developers don't accept standards that have LARGE patent fees
   associated with them. (We'll try to give them ones that have
   smaller fees)

   Wow, there are lots of software patents being issued - some of them
   are really idiotic. This is a gold mine we don't want to miss out

   It's funny. None of this is a logical argument for their
   position. They are simply stating what is going on the
   industry. Companies like to patent.

<w3c> Importance of interoperability for core infrastructure, lower
   down the stack: Preservation of interoperability and global
   consensus on core Web infrastructure is of critical importance. So
   it is especially important that the Recommendations covering
   lower-layer infrastructure be implementable on an RF
   basis. Recommendations addressing higher-level services toward the
   application layer may have a higher tolerance for RAND terms.
   Better disclosure: A clear process, to which Members are committed
   and/or bound to ensure better disclosure of essential patents as a
   condition of Membership, is vital.  Access for general public (not
   just Members): Licensing terms for essential technology should be
   available on a non-discriminatory basis to W3C Members and
   non-Members alike.  Working Group flexibility: One patent licensing
   framework may not be appropriate to every W3C Working
   Group. Therefore, Working Groups should have flexibility to specify
   minimum licensing terms as part of their work. These intellectual
   property rights requirements should then become the basis for
   Advisory Committee and Director review of the resulting

<translation> These vague and unenforceable guidelines will protect
   the process from getting out of hand.

   Our member companies won't screw each other by keeping silent about
   their patent intentions until the end.

   We'll let the public comment, but we can ignore what they say.

   Each working group can rewrite the rules whenever they want.

The W3C is sowing the seeds of their own destruction. What we are
likely to get are lots patents of not all that great commercial
appeal. If a company has an idea for a patent with lots of commercial
appeal, they won't put it in the W3C which might restrict the royalty
fee they can charge. If something is truly revolutionary, it will
follow normal patent routes. The market will decide. If something is
less than truly revolutionary, these companies will try to get the W3C
to endorse it and hope that that will fool people into using it. Then
they'll spring the royalty fees on us.

Then we'll all hate the W3C and it will become a large rotting useless
body. The web will "mature" like other technolgies where innovation
happens as often as it did in Europe during the middle ages.
Received on Monday, 1 October 2001 04:11:48 UTC

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