I say "NO!" to RAND


I read the Patent Policy WG FAQ at http://www.w3.org/2001/08/16-PP-FAQ.html today, and I don't see very much to recommend this change in policy. I'll list several reasons that the W3C should turn this proposal down.

1)	I see an enormous land grab in the intellectual property realm: companies on all sides are asking legislative and standards bodies to increase the value of their companies by fiat. Here in the US, I would point to UCITA, DMCA, SSSCA, an astonishing lengthening of patent and copyright lifetimes, and a host of similar measures that seem to be designed solely to lock up the materials, properties, or ideas generated by any organization for the forseeable future. Ratifying the new RAND policy only drives this trend further and faster.

2)	It is foolish to submit the W3C, its members and its users to the risk of submarine patents. You need only look at the recriminations in the Rambus case to see the ease of sliding into the pit, and the pain of getting out. (In fact, it's worse with protocol standards. In a few years, all Rambus-compatible computers will be out of fashion. Standards last *forever*.)

3)	Allowing patents into international standards hurts small companies. As the president of a small software company, these sorts of concerns have already affected me. Our network monitoring product, InterMapper, has a built-in web server. We would have liked to generate and transmit GIF images of the network maps; however, the Unisys patent put us in the position of needing to negotiate a license (on uncertain terms) for the rights to use that patent which had been incorporated into the defacto standard HTML protocol.

Fortunately, JPEG and PNG graphic formats were feasible (although sub-optimal) replacements. (I say sub-optimal because generating JPEG's was quite compute-intensive; the more efficient PNG format was not widely implemented in browsers at the time.) We were nevertheless able to use these, and the GIF patent is now a non-issue for us.

I probably spent a total of two weeks on the decision to avoid the use of GIFs. Had we been required by circumstances (or the presence of a W3C Requirement) to use a patented techology, we would have required another 2-4 weeks to negotiate a license, and would in perpetuity have paid the license fee, along with the additional expense of whatever reporting conditions might have been required by the licensor.

4)	Even if the GIF patent had been available under "reasonable and non-discriminatory" guidelines with published pricing, it isn't clear that we would have chosen to use it. "Reasonable" is in the eyes of the beholder. Althought a 1 cent per copy license might be considered affordable, the reporting expenses would dwarf the licensing costs. Would shareware authors be covered by the same license fees as a company selling a $1,000 package? What if the licensed feature provides a small amount of value? (For example, the web server feature of InterMapper is perhaps 10% of the value of the total package, yet we probably would have seen a license fee based on the full price of the software.) 

5)	Why is the W3C so eager to enbrace this change? Are there technologies that cannot be made available without RAND? I don't see a compelling need for this change in policy. And the FAQ fails to state this.

Or are the member companies of the W3C simply trying to continue the land grab so that anyone who wants to remain compatible with the W3C standards winds up paying a little to each of the patent owners? 

6) Finally, how does this proposal further the mission of the W3C? Nothing I saw in your mission statement requires this. If a vendor wants their IP to be included as part of a sanctioned standard, then they should allow it to be used on a RF basis. If they refuse, so be it: let the standard evolve without that technology.

Or let the vendor promote the technology without the backing of the W3C. If it's compelling and well-implemented, then it will clearly be cost-effective for implementors to license a patented technology. 

But the W3C recommendations essentially have the force of law: please don't hold a gun to my head to simply to line the pocketbooks of a member or to lock me into a set of licensed technology.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Rich Brown                    richard.e.brown@dartware.com
Dartware, LLC                 http://www.dartware.com
25 S. Main St, PO Box 130     Telephone: 603-643-2268
Hanover, NH 03755-0130 USA    Fax: 603-643-2289

Received on Sunday, 30 September 2001 16:51:57 UTC