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Patent Policy comments

From: David Crick <dcrick@freeuk.com>
Date: Thu, 03 Apr 2003 10:44:06 +0100
Message-ID: <3E8C0266.5000304@freeuk.com>
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
Cc: timbl@w3.org

I have already written to you about the W3C's draft
patent policy, in which I voiced my support for the
FSF's position as was stated here:

http://www.fsf.org/philosophy/w3c-patent.html

I now write once more about the current and "final"
draft, this time adding my support to the further
statement given here:

http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-patentpolicy-comment/2003Mar/0021.html


In my previous comment

(http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/www-patentpolicy-comment/2002Nov/0072.html)

I emphasised Tim Berners-Lee's constant battle for
standards and his *crucial* decision (in light of
the Gopher royalties issue) to release his work on
HTML and HTTP completely into the public domain.

All of this is excellently and beautifully documented
in Tim's book "Weaving The Web".

In the foreword to the book, Michael Dertouzos writes,

   "When I first met Tim, I was surprised by another
    unique trait of his. As technologists and
    entrepreneurs were launching or merging companies
    to exploit the Web, they seemed fixated on one
    question: 'How can I make the Web mine?' Meanwhile,
    Tim was asking, 'How can I make the Web yours?'"

This quote also relates, several years down the line,
to the issue we now currently face, but instead over
software patents, both web-related and in general.


Encryption algorithms offer another perspective on the
overall issue of patents and software. Bruce Schneier
(cryptographer) has stated many times that encryption
algorithms should not be patented as it will slow up
or even completely forestall any widespread adoption.

"If I [had] patented Blowfish, no one would have used it.
  No one would have analyzed it. If I patented it and charged
  for it, it would be much less widely used. IDEA is a good
  example of this. IDEA could have been everywhere; for a
  while it was the only trusted DES replacement. But it was
  patented, and there were licensing rules. As a result, IDEA
  is barely anywhere.

  "The early public-key patents are the only exception to this.
  Because the patents controlled the concept of public-key
  cryptography, there was no way to do public-key encryption,
  key exchange, or digital signatures without licensing the
  patents." - slashdot.org/interviews/99/10/29/0832246.shtml

Similarly, before the process to produce the (then proposed)
AES algorithm was started, Bruce advised this to the US NIST,

"I strongly feel that any government-endorsed algorithm should
  be available free for all uses, like DES is. Patented algorithms
  should not be considered, unless the patent-holder is willing to
  grant free world wide rights as IBM did with DES."
  - http://www.counterpane.com/letter-27mar.html

NIST duly requested submitters to relinquish claims if their
algorithm was selected, or indeed (if I remember correctly),
if the chosen algorithm wasn't theirs but contained ideas that
theirs did.

NIST also displayed the following notice on their web site
throughout the process:

  "SPECIAL NOTE - Intellectual Property

   NIST reminds all interested parties that the adoption of AES
   is being conducted as an open standards-setting activity.
   Specifically, NIST has requested that all interested parties
   identify to NIST any patents or inventions that may be required
   for the use of AES. NIST hereby gives public notice that it may
   seek redress under the antitrust laws of the United States
   against any party in the future who might seek to exercise patent
   rights against any user of AES that have not been disclosed to
   NIST in response to this request for information."

The result is that the AES cipher will rapidly become the most
widely-spread encryption algorithm, replacing DES, which itself
was (as mentioned above) released royalty-free by IBM.


A final and pertinent quote comes from Tim Berners-Lee
himself, given as a comment about Richard Stallman for
Sam Williams' biography "Free as in Freedom: Richard
Stallman's Crusade for Free Software",

   "Richard was the first to take up what is now a very
    important battle. He declared ridiculous the notion
    that a line of code he had written could be claimed
    as belonging to someone else who had 'thought of it
    first.' He was an early, lone voice warning of how
    the concept of software intellectual property could
    undermine, rather than support, the programmer. The
    current crisis over software patents is something
    Richard foresaw long ago."


I therefore once again strongly urge the W3C to reconsider and
make sure that their patent policy allows - or even *forces* -
for the availability of unencumbered standards.
Received on Thursday, 3 April 2003 04:45:36 GMT

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