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

Don't add RAND licensing to the W3C process

From: Brent J. Nordquist <brent@nordist.net>
Date: Fri, 5 Oct 2001 12:49:46 -0500 (CDT)
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
Message-ID: <Pine.GSO.4.21.0110051243390.23663-100000@isis.visi.com>
I am writing to express my disagreement with the W3C's proposal on
"Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory (RAND)" licensing.  I have been
participating in the UseNet, Internet, Free and Open Software communities
for nearly two decades now, and have been a strong supporter of open,
unencumbered standards (including those promoted by the W3C such as HTTP,
XHTML, and XML).  I am greatly disturbed by the prospect of what RAND
licensing would likely mean for the future of the standards process.

I want to be clear about the part of the proposal with which I'm
disagreeing.  I fully agree that patent interests need to be clearly
disclosed early in the standards process, so that potential standards
adopters can judge the impacts.  I would even consider another licensing
choice (in addition to RF licensing) which allowed patent-encumbered
technology to be adopted by a standard, so long as the patent holder
granted an irrevocable, royalty-free license, in perpetuity, to all
implementors of the standard.  It is the addition of royalty-required
licensing to the W3C process with which I strongly disagree.

My biggest concern with this proposal is that RAND licensing is inherently
incompatible with Free and Open Software development. Free and Open
Software licenses are, by design, not structured to allow for royalty
payments; thus there can be no Free or Open Software implementations of a
standard licensed with RAND.  The Free and Open Software movements have
contributed an incredible amount of innovation and technical progress to
the growth of the modern Internet, and will continue to do so in the
future.  Many commercial software development organizations see their
profit stream threatened by what Free and Open software developers are
creating collaboratively around the globe, and I'm sure they're delighted
with the prospect of having this threat diminished.  However, this outcome
would not serve the public interest, which I feel should be a high concern
for an organization with "world-wide" in its name.

I am not a free software absolutist; I definitely believe there is a place
for both free and commercial implementation of software.  But I also
firmly believe that open, unencumbered standards provide the means by
which this playing field is kept fair and level.  The W3C's RAND proposal
shifts the balance dangerously toward commercial software development (and
especially toward the richest corporations).  This undercuts the long
tradition of technological innovation that the Free and Open Software
movements have provided.  It threatens to turn the Internet into a
proprietary, commercial-only space, the form of which would be shaped
mostly by a few rich players.

Last semester I taught an undergraduate communication and networking class
at the college where I work.  An examination of the history of networking
and the Internet makes one trend very clear:  that protocols and data
formats founded in open, unencumbered standards have flourished and
endured over decades, while proprietary and patented approaches (while
they may spring up and be popular at first) ultimately decay and vanish.  
(The contrast of TCP/IP with NetBEUI, IPX, and AppleTalk is the most
striking example of this truth in the networking sphere.)

The W3C has an opportunity here to make a stand for the value of open,
unencumbered standards.  Your organization should know as well as anyone
the value that such standards have brought in the past.  Don't ruin a
laudable goal of requiring patent disclosure by adding RAND licensing
which would diminish the vast contributions of the Free and Open Source
movements, and in so doing, bolster commercial ventures which have
financial gain, and not the public interest, as their ultimate goal.

P.S. Don't forget that the advancement of open, unencumbered standards
will go on with or without the W3C.  If RAND licensing is added to the W3C
process, history may well end up showing that the largest effect was the
diminishing of W3C's role in shaping the world's future computing

Brent J. Nordquist <brent@nordist.net> N0BJN
Received on Friday, 5 October 2001 13:49:47 UTC

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