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Re: PPWG reply on issue L3 -- GPL & W3C RF license requirements

From: Bayle Shanks <bshanks@stanford.edu>
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003 14:59:29 -0800
To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
Message-ID: <20030319225929.GA14887@bayle>

On Mar 14, Daniel Weitzner wrote:

> The Patent Policy WG has discussed this 
> matter and reached the following conclusion:
>
> The policy addresses the patent licensing requirements for 
> implementations of W3C Recommendations, while remaining neutral as to 
> what patent owners may do as to licensing for other purposes.The
> policy 
> neither creates a presumption that any WG member will offer any
> license 
> to its patents for any other use, nor that the Member will impose any 
> conditions on implementers to limit their implementations to the Rec.

You are saying, then, that the policy is probably not compatible with
GPL, and the above paragraph is the justification for that?



On Mar 14, Adam Warner wrote:

>> What you've pointed out here is that our proposed policy does not 
>> eliminate all power that patent holders have to control the
>> direction 
>> of technology. One camp of commenters believes that requiring a RF 
>> license at all robs patent holders of too much power. Those in the 
>> other camp, like you, believe that we haven't done enough. Those in
>> the 
>> first camp are making a public policy judgment that the only way to 
>> promote innovation is to allow patent holders total control over 
>> licensing in standards. You make a policy-based argument on the
>> other 
>> side that the only (or best) way to promote innovation is to
>> eliminate 
>> patents from the process.  What we have done is to assure that when
>> a 
>> piece of technology becomes a Web standards that there are
>> reasonable 
>> assurances that it will be royalty-free. We've identified what we 
>> believe to be a practical way forward. Larger questions about the 
>> innovation-promoting/retarding nature of patents are the province of 
>> legislatures.

> With the greatest of respect Daniel, this is your organisation's
> concern. You are the ones encouraging implementation of technologies
> on the basis that they are royalty free. In good faith free and open
> source software developers will implement these technologies and help lock in
> patented software techniques as common standards.

I agree with Mr. Warner here. Regardless of the governments' decisions
on larger patent issues, the same policy need not be adopted by
private and quasi-private actors such as W3C. There is nothing
inherently bad about the W3C acting to constrain or eliminate (or, on
the other hand, to enhance) patent protections as much as it is able;
just because the governments have provided a certain legal framework of
patents does not mean that that framework is the best tool for the
job. 


On Mar 14, Daniel Weitzner wrote:

> The PPWG has only been willing to require 
> licenses to patent claims that are essential to the Recommendation 
> because that enables the patent holders to identify (if they chose)
> the 
> scope of claims which must be made available RF. The experience of the 
> PPWG is that some patent holders require that degree of certainty
> about the scope of their obligation to be willing to make an RF commitment
> at all.

Expanding on my previous email, I think that it is better to have "no
RF commitment at all" than to have an RF grant encumbered in such a
way that it is not GPL compatible. 

That is, I think it is better that a standard not incorporate any
technologies that cannot be granted by patent
holders on a GPL-compatible basis. The cost of splitting the software community
in such a case is greater than the rewards. The community would of
necessity be split into two factions; a non-GPL faction implementing
the standard, and a GPL faction implementing a different
standard (there might also be a third community illegally GPLing W3C
standard implementations, but I bet that distributors such as Red Hat
and Debian would stay away from the resulting software). Besides being
confusing for everyone and provolking firestorms, such a split would
in large part negate the usefulness of the W3C in the first
place. Future standards would have reduced authority as people would
be worried about implementing any W3C standard in GPL. 

I realize that the W3C prefers a less encumbered license and that a
special procedure may be required in order to incorporate a restricted
license. I think that this special procedure will probably find that
in every case the cost of an encumbered technology is not worth it. So
why leave the door open, encouraging patent holders to initiate this
procedure? It will only waste everyone's time. 

Sincerely,
  bayle
Received on Wednesday, 19 March 2003 18:01:26 GMT

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