The Internet must remain free (gratis and libre)

To whom it may concern,

My opinion on the proposed change in policy to tolerate patents made 
available on RAND terms is that the change is unacceptable considering the 
strong history and success of the World Wide Web and the W3C.

The Internet has been built on a truly free-market system.  Technologies 
which worked well and were open have come to dominate, and technologies 
which were deficient in some way or were not open have tended to fall by 
the wayside.  There are many, many examples of both of these 
characteristics in action.  Consider the following:

  - Gopher vs. WWW:  Gopher was a technology that provided many of the 
things that the WWW now provides.  However, WWW (a combination of the HTTP 
and HTML technologies) was more successful because of the extra features 
and the ease of use that they provided.  Now, Gopher is largely non-existent.
  - Ethernet vs. Token Ring:  Here the principle of open vs. non-open is 
demonstrated.  Token ring, by most measures, was a superior technology for 
local-area networks.  It provided a way to route packets to their 
destination without risk of collision, something which Ethernet notable 
lacked for many years.  So why is Ethernet the more prevalent 
standard?   Ethernet was made open, so anyone could make cards for it or 
develop software for it.  Token Ring was a protected technology owned by 
IBM.  It was not free to make or develop for.  This is why it was pushed 
out of the market.

The W3C has been a truly influential organization in developing excellent 
standards for the Internet and its users.  The reason it is so successful 
is that it has been rightfully advocating free and open standards, and the 
average user has been able to accept and use those standards in their own 
development, thus popularizing them.  If this stance were to change, the 
effects on the structure of the web as we know it would be moderate, but 
the effect on the reputation of the W3C as a standards body would be 
enormous.  People would likely turn away from implementing standards that 
had patents and royalty components, and therefore the mind- (and market-) 
share of the W3C would decrease.

The interesting thing is, this change in policy would have only moderate 
effect on the Internet as a whole.  Standards with royalties attached to 
them would be hard-pressed to find mind- and market-share in a world where 
many of the tools are free and made by smaller developers.  Alternate 
standards would emerge without royalties, and those would become 
dominant.  This is already happening with the patent-protected MP3 standard 
and the Ogg Vorbis standard for music compression.

The bottom line is, patent-protected standards in the digital world will 
not work, as they will be replaced with free and open ones in time.  I 
would urge the W3C to stay its course on its noble mission to be a 
guidepost for Internet developers, and not succumb to the pressure of a few 
organizations.  These organizations have the means to attempt to ratify 
their own standards without the "stamp of approval" of the W3C.  Therefore, 
the W3C does not need to aid them in this manner.  In fact, the W3C should 
be protecting the rights of the individual user to develop in an open 

I am pleased to see that the W3C is considering many different options and 
paths, however this one is not beneficial to the W3C, the World-Wide Web, 
or the Internet.  I urge the W3C to reject these changes in policy.

Eric Gerlach
Independent Internet Software Developer

P.S. There have been >300 comments in the past 36 hours.  I would recommend 
that the W3C extend the time to accept comments for this so that the full 
voice of the users of the Internet can be heard.  Thank you.

Received on Sunday, 30 September 2001 15:12:37 UTC