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Re: MS views on Last Call Patent Policy Draft

From: Pete Ryland <pdr@pdr.cx>
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2003 23:40:00 +0000
To: gllug@linux.co.uk, www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org, David Turner <dturner@microsoft.com>
Message-ID: <20030124234000.GB8475@localhost.localdomain>

Some comments inline.  Apologies for the cross-post.

On Thu, 16 Jan 2003 10:07:01 -0800, David Turner wrote:
> Microsoft would like to offer its views on the latest proposal for a W3C
> patent policy as described in the last call document [1].
...
> 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.

This is absurd.  Why would one of these "many" unnamed customers contact
Microsoft rather than send a mail to www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org?
Reminds me of "But all the other kids..."-type lies.  Let us hear from said
companies before I'll believe a convicted monopolist.

...
> The software development community has a number of groups with special
> interests and it is apparent that some of these special interest groups
> have viewed the W3C patent policy as means for achieving objectives that
> do not relate to the efficient and useful development of standards at
> the W3C.  For example, on the day that the PPWG released its public
> summary of the meeting announcing a RF-only policy, Software in the
> Public Interest's spokesperson Bruce Perens issued a commentary on ZDNET
> [2] stating:
> 
>   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.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where legalities are far more important
than technology, especially for a standards body.  If the W3C wants to
remain a good place to develop web standards, it must have a well-reasoned
legal policy.  IMO, the RF-only policy is the only method of allowing
everyone to implement and adopt standards.  If this policy was so
unimportant, why was this dissertation from Microsoft also written?

> 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.

This is a lie.  AIUI, the FSF is not against the RF-only policy.  It is
against the "restricted field-of-use" policy.  This is quite clear in the
page you referenced.

> 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.

Again, this is a distortion of the truth.  The GNU GPL restricts
restrictions.  If that is what is meant by "such a restrictive .. license"
then fine.  And for the record, the GPL applies to binaries as well as their
source code.

...
> On the one hand we have Bruce Perens hailing the W3C's RF-only decision
> because it represents a victory on the way to eliminating the
> enforceability of software patents even though a significant percent of
> his constituency is apparently unable to distribute software based on
> W3C Recommendations, while his colleague Eben Moglen urges his
> constituents to amend the W3C patent policy in a way that would surely
> lead to a mass exodus of the W3C's current membership.

Do you really think that removing the "field-of-use" restriction would lead
to a mass exodus?  Personally I would disagree, but then it is only
speculation.

Also, as stated, the SPI's and the FSF's positions are not mutually
exclusive.

> Interestingly, the PPWG did not have a RF-only policy until the voices of
> these Open Source and Free Software experts were heard, but their primary
> interest in a RF-only policy does not lie with the W3C remaining a good
> forum for developing web standards.

IMO, it most certainly does.  As stated, my opinion is that it is very
important to legally ensure that standards are implementable by everyone.
If standards can only be implemented by a few, then they wouldn't be any
good as standards.  If someone demanded royalties for a patent on a certain
railway guage, for example, then anyone laying a track would simply use a
different guage to avoid the royalties.  What good would that be as a
standard?

Also, by law, Microsoft's interest in the W3C must be to benefit
shareholders.  Therefore, by law, Microsoft must be interested in earning
money from its participation even at the cost of the W3C's goals of
developing good web standards.  In fact, as a monopoly, Microsoft only
stands to gain from the dissolution of open web standards.  Another, better,
way Microsoft can gain from its participation, however, is in positive PR,
but only if it did the right thing, and changed its stance on this issue.

> While the open source software community, like the commercial software
> community,

You are definately confused about free software.  Think free as in speech,
not free as in beer.  Free as in the opposite of proprietary, not the
opposite of commercial.  It is possible, and common, to sell free software
commercially.

> has and continues to contribute to the development of the Web, in part, by
> creating and supporting Web standards, these communities do have different
> relationships with the W3C.  As you consider whether or not a RF-only
> policy is the right patent policy for the W3C we hope you will not only
> think about the pros and cons of such a policy but why some parties are
> issuing a call to arms to individuals who may have little engagement with
> the W3C other than to comment on this patent policy.

The reason for the "call to arms" is because this policy is of extreme
importance to the ability for standards to be just that: standard.

If web standards were to be legally unusable by some people, they would
simply be ineffective.

Pete Ryland

> [1] http://www.w3.org/TR/2002/WD-patent-policy-20021114/
> [2] http://news.com.com/2010-1071-961018.html?tag=lh
> [3] http://www.fsf.org/philosophy/w3c-patent.html
-- 
Pete Ryland
http://pdr.cx/
Received on Friday, 24 January 2003 20:06:59 GMT

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