W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org > January 2003

Comments about the proposed patent policy

From: Brett Smith <bcsmit1@engr.uky.edu>
Date: Tue, 31 Dec 2002 23:55:06 -0500
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
Message-ID: <20030101045506.GA1370@highwind>

Section 7 of the Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public License
begins:

      If, as a consequence of a court judgment or allegation of patent
      infringement or for any other reason (not limited to patent issues),
      conditions are imposed on you (whether by court order, agreement or
      otherwise) that contradict the conditions of this License, they do
      not excuse you from the conditions of this License.  If you cannot
      distribute so as to satisfy simultaneously your obligations under
      this License and any other pertinent obligations, then as a
      consequence you may not distribute the Program at all.

What are the conditions of this license?  Among others, section 2 states in
part:

      You may modify your copy or copies of the Program or any portion of
      it, and copy and distribute such modifications or work under the
      terms of Section 1 above, provided that you... cause any work that
      you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is
      derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a
      whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this
      License.

Implementations of patents which are licensed in such a way as to be
restricted to certain fields of use, such as those permitted in the World
Wide Web Consortium's proposed patent policy, are incompatible with these
terms.  One licensee cannot promise others who receive the software from
her that they may modify the software in any way they deem fit:
specifically, those users are forbidden from using the patent's
implementation outside its field of use.

The GNU General Public License does not allow such restrictions on the
user's ability to create derivative works from the software.  Hence,
implementations of field of use-restricted patents cannot be licensed under
the GNU General Public License: the conditions of the patent license and
the software's license cannot be met simultaneously, and hence, under
section 7, the licensee may not distribute the software at all.

It is worth reiterating that this conflict with the terms of the GNU
General Public License is not problematic only when a licensee attempts to
modify the software to implement the patent outside its field of use.  Even
when software implements a patent in a way that complies with field of use
restrictions, section 7 mandates that, because a licensee cannot allow
those that receive the software from him to modify it freely, it may not be
distributed whatsoever.

Permitting field of use restrictions in patents for world wide web
standards would prohibit the implementation of these standards in software
licensed under the GNU General Public License.  Authors of server and
client software alike would be faced with a difficult decision: license
their software under different terms, or refuse to support the standard.

Such software has enriched people's ability to make full use of all the
world wide web has to offer.  I ask you, please: do not ask these authors
to make such a decision, and oppose field of use restrictions in the World
Wide Web Consortium's proposed patent policy.

I thank you for all the time and hard work you have put into crafting a
policy suitable for such a wide-reaching, impressive medium.  Your efforts
are much appreciated.

Sincerely,

-- 
-- Brett Smith
Received on Tuesday, 7 January 2003 09:49:50 GMT

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