Regarding Patents in XML technologies

As a part-time web developer, consultant, and strong supporter of W3C
standards, I must speak out strongly against the use of any
royalty-dependent technology in an open specification.

An open specification is just that, open.  It is an agreed upon method
or format for communication between two or more parties, enforced by
common consensus that a standard way of doing things is better than not
and the knowledge that using it opens up a wide array of communication
opportunities with other parties.  As such, it is a benefit to all
parties, even those not directly involved in the formation of said
standards.  Open standards are also, at least in theory, free from
fettering by individual or partisan goals; they evolve into a standard
that is best for everyone, not for any one party.  Because all parties
are on even ground, it also fosters level competition, which is good for
the economy at large as well as for encouraging continued development
and innovation.  Open standards are responsible for such specifications
as TCP, IP, UDP, XML, DNS, and so on.  Without these royalty-free, open
standards, the Internet as we know it today would not exist.  Open
standards are a good thing, for everybody.

Companies should be welcomed and encouraged in the formation of solid,
robust, extensible standards to further those same goals; ease of
communication and ease of development.  However, the introduction of
proprietary technologies by very nature makes the standard no longer
open.  If the standard is dependent on any given party's legal control,
then it ceases to have the advantages that an open standard has.  It
ceases to be an open standard.  Suppose if one could not implement a
TCP/IP stack without paying a royalty fee to Berkeley or AT&T for the
use of their "specification"?  The public Internet, which has
irrefutably been a boon for both consumers and for businesses, would
never have developed.  Proprietization and fragmentation are a detriment
to the entire community, including, over the long term, the party
seeking to proprietize the standard in question.

Should a company wish to contribute proprietary technology to a public
standards body such as the W3C for the purposes of inclusion in a
public, open standard, that is to be encouraged.  However, such
inclusion must be contingent upon complete, free, unfettered, unlicensed
use and integration of the technology in perpetuity.  Otherwise, it
permits the company to "hold hostage" the standard or those who use the
standard at a later date.  Furthermore, the best way to guarantee that
such free use is maintained is for the company in question to surrender
ownership of the technologies to the public domain or the standards body
in question.  The company then has no legal way to co-opt the
development of the standard in the near or long term.

Such a move would not be to the detriment of the company.  As the
original authors of the technology, they already have a "leg up" on its
useage.  Their engineers are already familiar with it before anyone
else's developers are, giving them an edge.  It is also a strong public
relations boost, as well as a potential tax write-off.  In the long run,
if the technology is valuable and useful then it will result in a
general improvement of the entire industry and economy, and the company
will receive very substantial benefits from its widespread adoption, as
will all other companies.  The success of a company need not come at the
expense of another; sometimes the best way to improve the quality of a
company is to improve the standards of the entire industry of which it
is a part.

The W3C, and any standards body, should refrain from using any
proprietary technology of any kind from any member organization, unless
such usage comes with a complete surrendering of the technologies in
question to the W3C or to the public domain.  That is the only way to
guarantee that the specifications remain open standards, and continue to
have the tremendous positive impact on the development of the Internet
that the W3C's recent work has had.

Larry Garfield
President, DePaul University Linux Users Group
Associate Writer, infoSync (

Received on Wednesday, 24 October 2001 06:48:45 UTC