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

Comments on Microsoft's views

From: Gervase Markham <gerv@mozilla.org>
Date: Sat, 18 Jan 2003 19:30:03 +0000
Message-ID: <3E29AB3B.1080502@mozilla.org>
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org

> We have found that standards are only successful if our customers'
> requirements are being met through their active participation in the
> standards setting activity.  It so happens that many of our customers
> are enterprises outside of the core IT sector such as consumer
> electronics companies and telecommunications companies.  Many of these
> enterprises have long established patent portfolio departments that
> derive revenue commensurate with some of their significant business
> units.  We have heard from many of these customers who are also W3C
> members that they will not participate in standards development
> activities if it means that they will have to agree to license their
> patents on a RF-only basis.

If these companies want their problems solving in a way that's 
compatible with everyone else, then it can be argued that it's 
reasonable to ask them to throw their potatoes into the communal stew 
along with everyone else's.

>   1. There is no toll both on the web today, although there has been
>      no policy in place preventing companies from doing so in the
>      past. 

This is not for want of trying by various companies; I would venture to 
suggest that so far, we have been reasonably lucky. But still, if I want 
to put a GIF on my web page, I have to pay a toll.

>   2. There is a tendency to look at the royalty issue in black and
>      white terms. For example, many people understand how a patent
>      royalty of a few cents per DVD can be applied to DVD sales, but
>      have more difficulty understanding how one could apply a similar
>      patent royalty to html. Perhaps broadening how one views the use
>      of royalties and in the case of this example, envisaging a
>      reasonable one-time lump sum applied to browsers would be more
>      palatable than a fee each time a user clicked on an html link.

As a subject rather dear to my heart, in particular, I would like to 
assure you that a "reasonable one-time lump sum" applied to browsers 
would not be in any way palatable.

> Bruce Perens wrote: 
>   The W3C's decision will resolve only a single battle in a much
>   Broader war. A similar royalty-free policy must now be enacted by
>   the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and many other
>   organizations. Some standards bodies may decide to buck the trend
>   and act as playgrounds for large patent holders. 
> 
>   Those organizations will argue that by allowing patent royalties,
>   they will always be able to choose the best algorithm for any job.
>   It will then fall to the market to decide which organizations it
>   will follow. This battle must also be taken to the various
>   governments and treaty organizations that produce bad law permitting
>   the patenting of software and business systems, and continue to do
>   so.
> 
> Mr. Perens could not be any clearer in stating his community's position
> on the value of the W3C patent policy - it is the first battle in a
> larger war against software patents and commercial software, but has
> little to do with the W3C's role in remaining a good place to develop
> web standards.

I would like to object strongly to this conflation of an opposition to 
patents and an opposition to "commercial software." This 
misunderstanding seems to occur with worrying frequency and consistency 
whenever Microsoft or one of its employees makes a public statement 
which concerns the Free Software community. A moment spent surveying the 
landscape of companies who make money from Free Software will 
demonstrate that the opposite of Free is "proprietary" (as in "owned by 
a single vendor") not "commercial".

Mr Perens' views are quite consistent with a desire to keep the W3C a 
good place to develop web standards, because his view, as I understand 
it, is that an RF patent policy is a prerequisite for such a place.

> At the same time the Free Software Foundation (FSF), urged software
> developers to flood the W3C public comment list with mail stating their
> objections to the already RF-only policy.  It turns out that because the
> General Public License (GPL) is such a restrictive source code license,
> companies using the GPL for their products would not be able to
> incorporate W3C implementations that are distributed royalty free but
> with legitimate field of use restrictions properly permitted under the
> W3C RF patent policy.

"Legitimate" and "properly permitted" are begging the question; the 
policy is still a Working Draft.

But I'm amazed that you can use this point to call the GPL a 
"restrictive" license. If I may rephrase the point: it's impossible to 
give software users all the freedoms that the GPL promises without a 
less restrictive patent policy than the one currently proposed.

Gerv
Received on Saturday, 18 January 2003 14:29:04 GMT

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