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

Re: [xml-dev] standards vs. the public

From: Simon St.Laurent <simonstl@simonstl.com>
Date: 08 Oct 2001 21:02:12 -0400
To: "Steven R. Newcomb" <srn@coolheads.com>
Cc: jborden@mediaone.net, www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org, xml-dev@lists.xml.org
Message-Id: <1002589338.3132.35.camel@localhost.localdomain>
On Mon, 2001-10-08 at 18:46, Steven R. Newcomb wrote:
> The proposed patent policy demands discussion of the
> basis on which the policy is being proposed and
> defended.  How is the public interest served (or, as
> the case may be, not served) by this policy?

It's good to see "public interest" made explicitly a part of this
discussion.  It reminds me of a piece from the W3C's mission statement:

W3C> to lead the World Wide Web to its full potential
W3C> by developing common protocols that promote its
W3C> evolution and ensure its interoperability.

Unfortunately, the proposed patent policy seems to a serious departure
from that mission and the public interest.  The introduction of
"reasonable and non-discriminatory" licensing of patents - with real
dollar costs imposed by part 5 of the RAND license - seems like a
maneuver by some parts of the membership to make a few dollars off the
public and to shut out open source development, at least the kind which
lacks corporate sponsorship.

While open source has a notion of "public interest", sharing, and
zero-cost distribution, W3C activities have no inherent accountability
to 'public interest' or to claims by communities outside of its
membership. 

The W3C is accountable - outside of public relations - only to its
members.  The W3C's ethereal existence, by which it holds no assets at
all, is itself a clear indication of its lack of accountability in any
conventional legal sense.  As a result, it seems, there is no mechanism
for driving the W3C to pursue the public interest save for the benefits
of credibility.

The continuing use of the word "standards" in this document also
suggests that the W3C has forgotten its origins as a research group
issuing "recommendations".  "Standards" deserve much tighter examination
and consideration than mere recommendations.

> I would like someone to show how the proposed patent
> policy fits into an integrated package of policy
> reforms that will make the W3C a credible and
> consistent source of standards that the public can
> adopt with a sense of security that they will all make
> sense with respect to each other.

I would also like to see a package of policy reforms, and doubt strongly
that the proposed patent policy can co-exist with "the W3C a credible
and consistent source of standards." 

I'm particularly concerned by the vagueness of much of the proposal
regarding the implications of 'as a condition of membership'. While the
W3C, as a consortium of vendors selling memberships, has historically
been unwilling to consider sanctions against its members in regard to
compliance with its creations, it seems that the W3C might be wise to
consider sanctions for actions which strike at the very credibility of
those creations.

While some have suggested that this policy only applies to higher-level
standards and isn't a threat to the core, I'd like to suggest that HTTP
looks like an awfully high-level standard from the perspective of IP
(Internet Protocol, not intellectual property.)  Today's core is
composed of yesterday's high-level experiments, and I see no reason that
arbitrarily-drawn lines will last as development continues.  I also see
no integration between this proposal and the Technical Architecture
Group (TAG) - it simply isn't clear who decides what is core and what is
not.

Overall, I'd suggest rejecting RAND entirely as a first step toward
reforming the W3C and converting it from a vendor consortium to an
organization which focuses primarily, even exclusively, on the public
interest.  Rather than relive the 'tragedy of the commons' again, we
should focus on building a stronger commons.

-- 
Simon St.Laurent
"Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better." - Emile Coue
Received on Monday, 8 October 2001 21:04:37 GMT

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