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

[www-patentpolicy-comment] <none>

From: Christopher Hicks <chicks@chicks.net>
Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2001 13:38:26 -0400 (EDT)
To: <www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org>
Message-ID: <Pine.LNX.4.33.0109301316490.20153-100000@yakko.chicks.net>
The concept that the W3C could be moving in the direction of encouraging
standards based on patents is almost so ridiculous that it's hard to
conjure a "comment".  But I'll try.

In the history of standards there have been a variety of things that have
made standards successful.  In terms of computing technology, the IETF
stands as a shining example of how to get standards widely implemented.
The fact that the standards were written by practical engineers instead of
standards lawyers is certainly one reason for that.  But the biggest
reason in many people's minds is the wide availability of the standards
and the lack of restrictions on implementing them.  That wide openness is
comparable to the scientific method.  Patents, particularly in medicine,
have even crept into science as of late.  But the areas of fastest
progress and exchange of ideas did not include patents.  The W3C doesn't
simply owe a debt of gratitude to the IETF for laying the groundwork for
the web to exist, but to the decades of open academic computer science
innovation, and to the hundreds of years of open science before that.
Looking at the success of electricity and the Internet, I encourage the
W3C to consider that your standards will have a much larger impact if they
aren't encumbered by patents.

In some fields patents can be an effective way to manage innovation.
Time and time again it has failed in computing.  The wars between Xerox,
Apple, and Microsoft over Windowing standards got them nowhere.  When
Lotus tried to rest on the laurels of its patents it ultimately faltered
and it's flag ship revolutionary product has been left in the dust.
Patents on information technology (IT) are the last refuge of the
businessmen afraid to keep innovating.  Patents on IT would have kept us
locked into Lotus 1-2-3 for 17 years.  Patents on IT would have kept us
waiting for Xerox to release a GUI desktop for 17 years.  Patents on IT
would have forced everyone to buy a USR 56k modem for 17 years.
Mercifully in these cases the lawyers have managed to rangle and negotiate
and litigate around these problems.  But that's a waste of legal expertise
and our courts.  Maybe if IT patents could be for two years.  Maybe if IT
patents required obligationless licensing to free software like Linux and
BSD.  But the W3C doesn't exist in that maybe world.  In the real world of
patents, IT patents stifle innovation.  They prevent technology from
reaching the end users.  The businesses that have provided significant
sums to keep W3C going would put a more sugary wrapper on it, but the
whole purpose of a standards body is to get past those concerns of
individual businesses and standardize something for the good of us all.

Do you want your standards to die on the vine?  Do you really want to
stand on the side of stifling innovation?  Is the pressure from your
business interests so strong that you have no concern for how broad an
audience will get to take advantage of the technology?  I hope not.


"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always
so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts"
				-- Bertrand Russell
Received on Sunday, 30 September 2001 13:38:50 UTC

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