Proposed W3C Patent Policy

This is quite simply a mistake that will either cost the majority of web
users their interoperability, the W3C organisation its respectability,
or more likely both.

There are many businesses that are pushing very hard for patents to be
used in otherwise free standards. They usually try to cite (falsely)
that the internet was only made possible because of intellectual
property - the force which "made innovation possible". Of course,
history shows that the internet was setup precisely because intellectual
property *did not stand in the way* of innovation. To quote your FAQ

"[1-2] Why was it created?
Web technology has developed over the last decade through an
unprecedented burst of entrepreneurial energy and global cooperation.
Both the competitive forces which have lead to innovative technology,
and the cooperative spirit which has produced global interoperability
standards at an extremely rapid pace have occurred, until very recently,
in a market environment without any significant intellectual property
licensing requirements."

So why is it necessary to grant a small number of businesses a virtual
monopoly on standards? The above quote from yourselves observes that it
is possible to create vast networks of interoperable nodes without
intellectual property requirements, and there is no reason to presume
that this cannot continue.

More disturbingly: (quote from continuation of above)

"The second decade of the Web has already demonstrated that patents will
be a factor in the ongoing development of the Web infrastructure. A
variety of industry factors suggest that patent processes will
increasingly affect the Web. These factors make it clear that the W3C
must have an effective policy to address the inevitable increase in
patent issues that will come before individual WGs and the Membership as
a whole."

This is precisely the reason for W3C existing! Forgive me if I'm wrong,
but doesn't the W3C exist for the purpose of making sure that business
interests do NOT interfere with the free interoperability of nodes on
the network? This "variety of industry factors" is nothing more than a
few business who are pushing for patents simply because it would earn
them such a vast amount of money. They aren't concerned about the impact
this would have on the viability of the internet - that's the W3C's job.
They will quite rightly push their needs to the limit of law or industry
self regulating standards.

And finally, a flaw in the whole idea: (quote from same FAQ)

"[2-4] Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) License
A RAND License:
  * must be available to all implementers worldwide.
  * may be conditioned on payment of reasonable, non-discriminatory
royalties or fees.."

A license which is conditioned on payment of royalties is not available
to all implementers. For example, if HTTP version 30 were proposed as a
standard, but had a license restriction (royalties or not doesn't
matter) then the following browsers (by no means anywhere near the full
list) would never be able to implement this standard:

Galleon (
KDE Konqueror browser (
Lynx (
Mozilla (

This is because they are licensed as freely available, and only as
freely available. The majority of licenses are GPL or GPL-like
( All are incompatible with the
payment of royalties. All are incompatible with restriction of license.
There are doubtless many other pieces of software which will become
impossible to distribute in their intended form. By making intellectual
property allowable in W3C standards, you are intentionally making free
software based on your standards impossible.

For the sake of the viability of the internet, patents must not be
allowed to creep into internet standards. They will destroy the large
and freely available pool of applications. They will replace freely
available applications with a tiny pool of non-free proprietary
applications. Instead of an open and innovative internet, we will see a
closed and stagnant internet with a select few businesses earning all
the proceeds.

Do not allow this proposal to go through.

John Ripley
Software Developer, SONICblue

Received on Sunday, 30 September 2001 13:45:03 UTC