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

seed corn

From: William Loughborough <love26@gorge.net>
Date: Thu, 11 Oct 2001 15:33:54 -0700
Message-Id: <>
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
Throughout the history of mankind since we shifted from hunter-gatherer to 
agriculturists it became inviolately understood that a certain amount of 
the crop was put aside as seed for the next crop. The rule against eating 
the seed corn - even if you thought you were very hungry) was central to 
the survival and flourishing of our species.

The W3C was started by a "gift" of incredible proportions: CERN and Tim 
Berners-Lee donated what turned out to be the largest single financial 
jackpot in history. Because the Web was free, hundreds of companies 
flourished and vast fortunes were amassed. The principle was simple: if you 
work on the standards (including donating your time/patents/IPR) *everyone* 
was not only connected to *everything* but we all prospered beyond anything 
conceived of in the past.

The process for those of us who work on these matters, whether languages, 
guidelines, or other technologies involves going into a Working Group with 
no hidden agendas, no expectation of other compensation than the 
improvement of the whole project. Although on occasion there have been 
instances of "submarine claims" [hey, I thought of 
(patented/published/copyrighted) that in 19xx] with attendant ill feelings 
and even some legal wrangles, on the whole it's worked pretty well.

Now one segment of the membership, with no participation by "the public", 
has decided to change all that. The idea that there is a body of standards 
is very similar to the idea that there is commonality of "property rights" 
thereto - just like the seed corn. Trying to establish who thought of what 
and when and how important their contribution was is clearly extremely 
divisive. Particularly, when there is some idea of compensation based on 
the artifice of "intellectual property rights" which are only valid on 
parts of the planet.

All of this stuff dates back to very long established ideas: from 
Aristotle's "Categories" through SGML and its precursors. Although clever 
attorneys can gerrymander little provinces of patentability, we all know 
that all that is bull shit. Working out the minutiae of this stuff is hard 
work that can only be accomplished by co-operation, not competition. If 
anyone seriously believes that the "prior art" for everything we do hasn't 
been clearly established for decades, they are living delusionally.

There can only be one principal which will enable those of us who 
contribute our not inconsiderable talents to this effort to continue and 
that is the statement we make coming into a Working Group: "I believe that 
I have no IPR claims that pertain to the work I'm about to engage in and 
further that any such claims will not be made relating to any of the 
product of this WG".

If anyone (or any misguided corporation) thinks they *own* some 
"intellectual property" then they'd better speak up and we'll work right 
around it. Just as whenever one has a "hit song" or profitable film there 
are parasites in society who bring suit using fatuous claims of 
"invention", so we must be prepared to answer all such claims, but that is 
an inevitability of little consequence compared to the problems of 
acknowledging such claims in advance.

Further, the deliberations of this Working Group were shamefully carried 
out in secrecy with no public mailing list and no participation by public 
entities. This cannot be further tolerated.

Received on Thursday, 11 October 2001 18:30:24 UTC

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