Allowing patents in Standards is the antithesis of the W3C charter

This message is in response to the w3c's proposal to allow patents with 
"non-discriminatory" licensing to
be incorporated into w3c standards, henceforth referred to as RAND.  All 
formal comments on RAND should
be directed to ; otherwise, please respond 
the appropriate mailing list or this person directly.

Look at the mission statement from the w3c's own front page:
( )

1. Universal Access
2. Semantic Web
3. Trust
4. Interoperability
5. Evolvability
6. Decentralization
7. Cooler Multimedia

Obviously, whomever thought of the idea of allowing patented methods into 
w3c standards didn't bother to read the w3c's mission statement, or 
blatantly decided to ignore it anyway. Allowing patents BREAKS EVERY SINGLE 
GOAL. Here's how:

o	Universal Access

	Now, obviously, the web has never been free (there have always been costs 
	with access, in one form or another). However, the W3C's mission is to 
make these barriers
	as small as possible, so that as many people can access the web as 
possible. This extends
	across international boundaries. RAND adds considerably to the 
cost-of-entry, so much so that
	it effectively will cut the vast majority of the population out of the 
process.  We all know software
	patents are a thorny international issue. Where is my software to run, and 
do I have to pay royalties
	for it when it's sold in country X instead of country Y?  From a 
developer's side, it's another hoop
	to jump through, and one that adds a considerable amount of legal and 
financial complexity, one
	which is doubtless to discourage large numbers of people, and outright 
prohibit others. For what if
	a condition of the patent is that the software can only be used in 
countries where the paten is
	respected (i.e.. valid)?  Is that universal access? Hardly.

o	Semantic Web

	This area concerns creating common building blocks that allow us to use 
computers to communicate
	information. With RAND, these building blocks of communication are 
suddenly available only to those
	who can pay. Oops!  Sorry, no more universal, fundamental blocks - Johnny 
can only play with these 	blocks, while Jane can only play with those 
blocks. So much for a universal language. We're back to
	dialects, and, even worse, dialects based on wealth.

o	Trust

	Patents strike at the very foundation of trust. While they do allow for 
full disclosure of the method, it
	fundamentally harms the nature of the consumer <-> patent holder 
relationship.  The patent holder now
	has a weapon to use against the people.  While RAND attempts to eliminate 
the discriminatory licensing,
	it does nothing about the more important issue: cost.  Cost has always 
been a greater issue in patent
	licensing than the whims of the patent holder.  Far more potential 
licensees are turned away because
	they cannot afford the set cost of the license, than potential licensees 
who can pay the cost, but the
	patent holder refuses to play.   Trust is an issue of not allowing one 
party to have undue influence over
	the entire process, which RAND fundamentally breaks.

o	Interoperability

	And I quote from the mission statement: "Twenty years ago, people bought 
software that only worked
	with other software from the same vendor. Today, people have more freedom 
to choose, and they
	rightly expect software components to be interchangeable."   In what way 
does RAND possibly not
	violate the above statement?  In fact, RAND sends us straight back to 
vendor-lock-in and
	straight jacketed protocols.

o	Evolvability

	Evolvability requires that involved parties are capable of meaningful 
changes to a system to adapt to
	change. To change a system, one must have access to the parts of the 
system to change. With
	patents, the ability to evolve a design is limited to those who have 
licensed the patent. Change
	cannot proceed unless you are a member of the '"club" of privileged 
licensees. Q.E.D.

o	 Decentralization

	RAND is actually greater centralization, as it puts power into a small 
number of hands (primarily, the
	patent holder). Things will devolve to the point where they are with much 
of the intellectual properly
	in the world right now:  it is owned by a few entities, who all 
cross-license it (or shuffle around
	license chits (each of which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to 
obtain) to maintain the illusion
	that they pay for things, while in reality it's all an accounting game) to 
the other huge entities. The
	smaller players are left out in the cold, as they have neither the amount 
of intellectual property which
	allows them the ante to the game, nor the cash to buy their way in.   RAND 
moves us directly back
	to the path of concentration of power and control.

o	Cooler Multimedia

	What happens when we get two competing standards under RAND?  You can bet 
that the larger players
	(who are there to maximize their profits and power) will back the ones 
with the patented method, even
	if it's not their patent (as they're just going to play the game described 
under Decentralization above).
	Will the better technology win?  No.  Money is now an issue, and we know 
how once that enters the
	equation for system design, it quickly overpowers technological 
issues.  Will RAND help make the
	Web a better place?  I doubt it; you'll get protocols which win on 
financial backing and power, rather
	on fitness of purpose.

RAND is a horrible idea.  There is no excuse for this proposal to even be 
seriously considered.  It violates all of the values that the w3c 
consortium stands for: freedom, universality, and access for all. We've 
given this proposal all the consideration it merits, and the verdict is 
clear:  it should be die immediately, unequivocally, and never be 
resurrected in any form.

-Erik Trimble
Systems Architect
Santa Clara, CA


Received on Sunday, 30 September 2001 22:11:37 UTC