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Comments on RAND in three sections

From: Steven Healey <sphealey@worldnet.att.net>
Date: Tue, 09 Oct 2001 21:19:55 -0500
Message-ID: <3BC3B04B.5040804@worldnet.att.net>
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
From:  Steven P. Healey
I. Policy concerning patents

In it's Response to Public Comments [on RAND], W3C states

    W3C takes no position on the public policy questions surrounding
    software patents.

Isn't that statement at best naive? The Internet and Web were originally 
designed with the idea of free and open communication. Today, there are 
powerful forces that would like to see open communication closed down 
and the Web turned over entirely to commercial pursuits. If a RAND 
policy is adopted for Web standards, won't the next move by those 
commercial entities be to create as many proprietary standards as 
possible and force them on the entire Web community (using hammers such 
as DMCA), like it or not?

The missing piece of the puzzle is that to "not have a policy on 
software patents" is in fact to have a policy - just as to not make a 
decision is to make a decision. Combining "no patent policy" with a RAND 
(or UFO) policy for standards is essentially to take the position that 
the Web should become the property of those who can pay the most to 
control the standards and legal processes. This may be bad (which is my 
personal opinion); it may be good (after all, this is how most of the 
technical world works). But it should be discussed explicitly.

II. W3C vs. Existing Standards Bodies

In its Response to Public Comments, W3C made the following statement:

    4. Is RAND licensing common for bodies like W3C? Yes. A RAND license 
is common among standards organizations.

One of the strongest criticisms of organizations such as ISO and ITU is 
that they charge exorbitant fees to even read, much less implement, 
their standards. Some government entities have even gone so far as to 
incorporate proprietary standards into laws, such that individuals have 
to right to read the laws that they can be jailed for violating (e.g. 
Veeck vs. City of Austin).

The Web and Internet have always been unique in having their standards 
freely available for review and implementation. Is it a good thing for 
W3C to seek to emulate the "closed source" standards bodies?

III. W3C Response to Public Comment

W3C's initial response to public comments on RAND could be construed as 
an attempt to control the debate via a "good bill/bad bill" strategy. 
That is, the current status quo is for the Web to be based on open, 
non-proprietary standards.  A proposal is mooted to implement a RAND (or 
UFO) policy for new Web standards.  Critics of this policy are then told 
that they must "be constructive" in their criticism of the UFO policy, 
as the choice is between a very onerous UFO policy and one which, having 
been "constructively criticized", is only slightly less onerous.  The 
choice of retaining or strengthening the status quo (no patented 
technology in Web standards) is taken off the table before the debate 

I am sure that this is not the intention of the W3C patent working 
group.  However, the issue of whether or not a patent policy is 
acceptable to the Web community needs to be explicitly debated before a 
UFO policy is mooted, not after.


Steven P. Healey
St. Louis, Missouri USA
Received on Tuesday, 9 October 2001 22:17:29 UTC

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