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W3C Considers Royalty-Bound Patents In Web Standards 224

Svartalf writes: "There's a report on Linux Today about a proposed loosening of requirements on patented technologies being submitted for W3C consideration. Called RAND, short for 'reasonable and non-discriminatory,' it basically changes the position of W3C with respects to patents. This is a real problem as all of you know, considering that we've had all kinds of fun with other 'reasonable' licensing (MP3 and GIF come immediately to mind) -- the cutoff for comments is tomorrow (9-30) so if you want to get them in do it NOW." September 30 is now today rather than tomorrow. The same issue was raised in a post yesterday as well, but many readers have submitted news of this Linux Today piece. Reader WhyDoubt points out that comments on the change are archived on the W3C's site, including this pithy comment from Alan Cox. Do you think that fee-bound patents have a place in the standards promulgated by the W3C? Read the Patent Policy Working Group's FAQ, then add your comment.
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W3C Considers Royalty-Bound Patents In Web Standards

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  • It's not too late... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:00PM (#2370571)
    Go read Cox's comment then look through some of the other comments on the site.Try to work out something sensible to say, then say it; there are already over 150 comments from this month, all (as far as I can see) overwhelmingly against this policy.

    Obvious angles on it:

    • Cox's quote from the W3C: "The W3C was created to lead the Web to its full potential by developing common protocols that promote its evolution and ensure its interoperability"
    • The authors of the RAND proposal are: Microsoft, HP, Philips, Apple, and a couple of w3c people. The W3C is NOT acting for the benefit of the web user here.
    • Software patents in themselves are debatably useful/ethical. Their place in so-called open systems like the internet is not a subject that deserves conversation beyond the word 'no'.
    • This has gone through as quietly as possible so far - could it be that there's a little underhandedness going on here?
    • Is this just a proof that the W3C is inadequate and needs replacement by a truly open standards body? If this passes their opinion is quite clearly worth nothing.
    • The existence of patents causes a huge imbalance between corporate and open developer. In the current climate, it makes the technology entirely unusable, legally, for the latter group.Do you want to freeze open/free software development entirely out of the w3c's concept of the internet? What am I asking... of course you do, corporate buttkissers.
    • This is a disgusting potential misuse of the W3C's position. Quite simply, they are in a position of responsibility and should know better.
    • Has the W3C entirely forgotten their original ideals, to see standards compliant software and free, open, usable Internet? Like Alan Cox said, I can smell the rot from here.
    • Patents, in the final analysis, give the corporation power over the people. They can relicense, they can enforce, whenever, whatever, and however they see fit. Patents are a force that could quite well serve for silencing dissenters and giving the power for expression on the Internet only to those with the power to pay. Do not follow the rush to put a price tag on the net; try to remember why we're here and where it really came from. Had the net been closed source in the first place it would no doubt have died the death of most proprietary efforts; too expensive, and tightly controlled by bureaucratic bastards who can't get their thumbs out of their arses for long enough to get any actual innovation done. We don't need it, we don't want it and if the W3C endorses it, then damn them like the corporate sheep they're rapidly becoming - a standards body should not be so visibly a puppet to
  • by greenfield ( 226319 ) <> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:01PM (#2370576) Homepage
    No one should be surprised by the change in patent information. Look at the membership structure of the W3C. We can compare it to the membership structure of the IETF, a group I think everyone would consider open and "free."

    First, in the W3C, membership is only offered to organizations. In the IETF, all individuals can participate in the Working Groups; any individual can generate a RFC.

    Second, in the W3C, membership costs either $5000 or $50,000. IETF membership is free. It does cost money to attend an IETF meeting, but that cost is around $500; well within the reach of any serious developer.

    Control of working groups in the IETF (and the IESG) is based on technical ability or desire. In theory, you don't really have to be a prior participant in the IETF to run a working group. (But it helps. A lot.) In the W3C, you must be a member (paying $5000 or $50,000), in order to run a WG.

    In the IETF, decisions are made on rough consensus. In the W3C, decisions are also made based on consensus with elaborate procedural systems. It's interesting to compare and contrast the amount of procedural information on the W3C's web site versus the IETF's web site.

    In general, all IETF working material is open and accessible to the public. You can read RFCs as they are being written; you can read, post, and comment on IETF mailing lists. W3C working material is not open to the public.

    Companies may ask if the IETF is unfriendly towards business. I do not think this is the case. Look at Cisco. Cisco has certainly participated in the IETF; they are very involved in the development of several IETF standards. However, Cisco still has the ability to develop their own proprietary protocols and still has the ability to make secret agreements with other companies.

    In short, membership in the W3C has always been primarily by businesses. In fact, there is no way for an individual to join the W3C. Anyone surprised by an extreme pro-business slant of the W3C is not really familiar with the W3C's nature.

    [You might wonder why companies don't control the IETF as much as they control the W3C. My theory is that the W3C works on items much more relevant to the end user. A mass-market consumer is much more amazed by SVG than they are by packet switching. Companies have a strong interest in controlling what the mass-market consumer sees.]

    (Refs: W3C Membership [], IETF Web site [])
  • by ClarkEvans ( 102211 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:43PM (#2370693) Homepage
    The progress the W3C has made in the past *without* giving in to royalty-burdened patents has been absolutely fantastic.

    It is not like there is a lack of innovation here.
    Why fix something that's not broken? Money should not be the focus of the W3C... bringing the market to maturity and ensuring competition (and thus innovation) should be its goal.

    Patents are wisely justified under the U.S. Constitution to "Promote the Sciences and Useful Arts" and are not justified under any sort of natural-rights or right to compensation logic. One must ask if the patent process is indeed satisfying its goal. If not, then institutions such as the W3C should not be rushing to support the implementation of restrictive mechanisms that are not needed.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:54PM (#2370715)
    Blame Netscape, who had 80% marketshare at the time and basically declared that they were going to ignore the W3C for there on out. They knew they were close to becoming irrelevant, so HTML 3.2 was a pathetic attempt at a comprimise. After all, what good is a standards body that's ignored by the industry that it represents?

    Netscape ignored them and went ahead with their proprietary document.layers DOM and JavaScript StyleSheets. Meanwhile their "We're Standards Compliant" marketing was layered on heavier than ever.

    Ironically, Microsoft came into save the day for the W3C. IE 4.0 was the first time that anyone had paid attention to them in years.
  • by jdaly ( 120407 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @07:10PM (#2371706)
    Since the publication of Adam's article on Linux Today, and the Slashdot listing of the article, many have written to voice disagreement with the current Working Draft of the W3C Patent Policy Framework.

    For those of you not familiar with how W3C works: W3C puts documents out for public comment, announces them, and is obliged to respond to questions and critiques. This document was no different; in fact, not only was the document announced on the W3C Homepage six weeks ago, the WG produced both a FAQ and backgrounder, and the announcement was carried on a variety of syndication services which rely on RSS feeds.

    As many of you may have missed the August announcement of the draft, I include the links here for your reference. I would ask that you consider reading these documents as "item 0" in Adam's "What you can do" list.

    Announcement: archived with date at
    W3C Patent Policy Framework: 6/

    For more information on how W3C works in general, I invite you to read the W3C Process Document:

    As of now, many comments sent to W3C's Patent Policy Comment list simply say, "Don't!" By responding in this manner, writers give the Working Group nothing on which to build a constructive response or to consider. Should you decide to comment, I suggest here what you can do to help W3C make the most of your comments, and help it be in a position to act on them:

    1. Read the draft itself. (You may find the FAQ and backgrounder useful.)
    2. Provide your comments directed at specific sections of the draft with which you object.
    3. Ask questions where you find the language of the draft itself unclear.
    4. If you make philosophical objections, please base them, at least in part, on your reading of the draft.

    W3C welcomes all comments - critical and otherwise - on its documents. I would say though, that the preference is for substantiated comments. This type of comment leads to action; at the very least, they demand consideration on behalf of the Working Group, as well as a thoughtful response.

    Best regards,

    Janet Daly
    Head of Communications, W3C
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @08:11PM (#2371857)
    Is the current SVG standard encumbered by patents?

    Yes it is. Apple, IBM, Kodak and Quark license their patents to use with SVG only under the discussed RAND terms. Check out the details at l []
  • by Gerv ( 15179 ) <gerv&gerv,net> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @10:42PM (#2372187) Homepage
    Keep in mind that this doesn't "change" any Working Group activities within the W3C to mandate RAND licensing.

    That's not true - see section 5.3. Any current working group can be disbanded and converted to a RAND licensing policy; when it is, all previous licenses given by the members are null and void.

    Disband CSS, put it under RAND and boom! No more Mozilla/Konqueror, and Opera Software pay through the nose.

  • by ericsink ( 211807 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @11:25PM (#2372290) Homepage
    You radically overstate the status of the document formerly referred to as HTML 3.0. This was never a standard of any kind. It was Dave Raggett's proposal for a next generation of HTML.

    I was chair of the HTML Working Group (IETF) back then, and I was amazed how many people perceived Dave's labeling of that document to be gospel. His document never had any consensus behind it of any kind, and it was not widely implemented. He coded it in his prototype browser, and emacs-w3 implemented it of course, along with every other feature suggested by anyone. :-)

    BTW, HTML 3.0 was *not* an attempt to bring sanity to the demented browser implementations. Raggett's document predated the dementia.

    After we finished the standardization of HTML 2.0 within the IETF, that Working Group was shut down, and I joined the W3C group, to help with the standardization of HTML 3.2. Yes, it was unfortunate that the effort moved into an organization which was open only to corporate members. However, there was a very substantial need to get the major browser vendors to agree on *something*, and that process was clearly just not going to happen in IETF meetings.

    By this point, HTML 3.0 was old news. Not even Raggett was pushing it anymore. It was a nice doc, and way ahead of its time, but it should have been titled something a bit less pretentious.

  • by xiox ( 66483 ) on Monday October 01, 2001 @04:50AM (#2372794) Homepage
    Okay, it's after the deadline, but in mailing list []

    Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2001 23:51:42 -0600 (MDT)
    Message-Id: <>
    From: Richard Stallman <>
    Subject: W3C patent policy

    If the World-Wide Web is indeed to remain "world-wide", it must not
    depend on restricted standards. The W3C cannot prevent others from
    developing or using restricted standards, but it should not lend its
    name to them.

    Therefore, the W3C should adopt a policy that all important standards
    must have free patent licenses (and thus allow free software).
    Perhaps there are some standards for specialized kinds of
    business-to-business communication which are sufficiently unimportant
    that it may not be disastrous if they are patented. These standards
    do not really deserve the term "world-wide", but they may still be
    worth the W3C's attention. But standards that really are of
    world-wide importance must be free.

    The "back-door RAND" problem pointed out by Adam Warner is especially
    crucial. When the W3C decides that a certain standard ought to be
    patent-free, no circumstances should be allowed to annul that

    Aside from these substantive changes in policy, the W3C should also
    stop using the term "reasonable and non-discriminatory", because that
    term white-washes a class of licenses that are normally neither
    reasonable nor non-discriminatory. It is true that they do not
    discriminate against any specific person, but they do discriminate
    against the free software community, and that makes them unreasonable.

    I suggest the term "uniform fee only", or UFO for short, as a replacement for
    "reasonable and non-discriminatory".

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