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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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  • by getafix ( 2806 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @12:34PM (#2370499)
    Well, I had already sent my comments before this appeared on slashdot.

    Please, dont just comment on this board; go ahead and send that email with your level- headed-non-profane thoughts.

    This certainly looks like a sneak-it-in approach with such a short public comment periond - especially for something this large.

    Hopefully some prudent arguments can be made to convince the W3C folks.
  • by twitter ( 104583 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @12:39PM (#2370514) Homepage Journal
    I think we can also be sure that the kind of W3C members working this little agenda have plans. I would bet on "Windows digitally-protected noncopyable web pages" being one of them. Of course the protection they really mean is "against reading by non IE users".

    Said after pointing out the secretive and rule violating manner this happened and rightly snearing at how this will contribute the purpose of the organization, interoperability. His prediction:

    This would mean SVG became a multi-vendor consortium pushing a private specification. But let's face it - with the patents involved - that is precisely what it is.

    And so the internet becomes TV as all are shoved out to be replace by three or four big broadcasters. Can it happen? Sure it can, just look at all the empty TV and radio spectrum. There is no technical or real economic reason the airwaves are filled with nothing but comercial noise or static. It's a problem with bad laws.

  • But why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Frodo ( 1221 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @12:39PM (#2370518) Homepage
    What I cannot understand is - why exactly they need it? Are there any Web standards incoming so complex that they need someone who will charge a fee for it and there's can be no open alternative possible? I know that almost for every proprietary standard known well enough there's an open alternative, often superior to its proprietary match. So why exactly W3C needs restricted standards? Just because someone paid for it? If so, the things are very sad indeed.
  • by codeforprofit2 ( 457961 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @12:46PM (#2370536)
    "fun with other 'reasonable' licensing (MP3 and GIF come immediately to mind)"

    I don't think those two are a very good example of patent problems. They are not really problems at all.

    You can use them and licens them in that case, thats the costs of using other peoples work (the work involved in reseaching&developing them). Otherwise you can develop your own formats. You are perfectly free to chose.

    The real big problems is obvious patents, and even worse to broad patents. Those really are huge problems and will get even worse.

    You don't happen to implement gif by accident but there are horribly broad patents out there locking up whole categories of software/businessmodels.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @12:51PM (#2370547)

    First off, I actually agree with a lot of what he said in his statement. However, I think he would have had a lot better chance of getting the point across if he hadn't invoked the specter of evil corporatization, and maybe left the Microsoft bashing out.

    There are many valid points he could have made without sounding so reactionary. Must have been taking lessons from RMS, yeesh.
  • by stilborne ( 85590 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:02PM (#2370578) Homepage
    you are mixing two different applications of patents rather freely and without discrimination.

    placing a patent on a physical device that is the result of research obviously benefits business and mankind at large. however, when one applies a patent to a protocol that is intended to be part of the fabric that allows the global human community to communicate it hinders not only that communication but other business interests from using it.

    you seem to forget that the very web board you are reading and commenting on would not exist, along with 99% of the rest of the internet, were patents accepted and applied on standard internet technologies. patents do have their place, but open network standards is not one of them.

  • by Paul the Bold ( 264588 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:02PM (#2370579)
    Yes, but the only reason the modern electronics industry got off the ground is that people blatently violated those very patents. (I heard Jack Kilby say this in a recent talk.)

    Second, the FET was patented in 1927, and it is this that makes modern computers go, not the BJT of which you speak. The original patent holder didn't make a damn dime. (Yes, it was because he couldn't make one, only design one.)

    The transistor is a staple of modern electronics because it is superior technology. The concern about the W3C is that inferior technology will become standard as corporations push for profits. This isn't very far fetched (Microsoft), and that is why we Slashdotters are worried.
  • by cornice ( 9801 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:04PM (#2370586)
    This could be a step forward but I doubt it. The problem is that patents are necessary but the implementation of the patent system is broken. They cover things that shouldn't be covered. They are often too broad and often cover areas that restrict development in areas where the patent holder did very little work. Face it, patents to the greatest degree serve the law profession and big corporations with big law budgets.

    If the W3C wants to include some obscure technology that for example helps handicapped people communicate and there is no clear alternative then this may be an area where patents in standards are a good idea but I am too synical to think that this is the only time this rule would be applied. I think that a lesser technology that is free of patent entanglements is always better.
  • by getafix ( 2806 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:07PM (#2370593)
    The question we should be asking is, do we want to hold back web standards by two decades to satisfy our irrational aversion to patents

    The question we should be asking is, do we want to push forward web standards by two decades to satisfy our rational aversion to patents.

    Why, yes I do.

    Imagine if we had to pay someone everytime the http request was invoked, or everytime an html page was viewed - yep - that would have certainly moved things forward.

    Feel free to make your money with patents - but dont stick it in a standard.
  • by meepzorb ( 61992 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:10PM (#2370599)
    What, exactly, is WRONG with the current web standard? HOW IS IT BROKEN? It already does anything that we would need.

    Can we exchange text on the web, already, of any arbitrary type and format? Yes.

    Can we exchange images on the web, already, of any number of supported types? Yes.

    Can we run backend scripts, already, to add functionality (such as, say, to implement a discussion board?). Yes.

    Sound? Yes. Video? Yes. etc etc.

    In fact the only niches for patented 'standard extensions' all involve commerce.

    It's not very trendy to say so, but virtually all of the basic infrastructure technologies we're now using were developed at government expense. From TCP/IP to HTTP itself (Berners-Lee was on Supercollider funds at CERN when he developed it), WE paid for these inventions. Which makes them COMMONS which makes them OURS to share however we choose. Period.

    Honestly, what business does Corporate America have using cynical exploitation of patent law to co-opt what was developed with taxpayer money? Can anyone without secret (or not so secret) fantasies of being the next Bill Gates really give me a logical, non-theological reason why we should let that happen?

    I have grown so weary of even having to argue this anymore.

  • by LatJoor ( 464031 ) <`latjoor' `at' `'> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:13PM (#2370609) Homepage
    Trasistors are hardware, not software. The issue here is software patents and open standards.

    The whole point of an open standard is that anyone can implement it. If we allow the use of patents in open standards, then they cannot be implemented by just anyone, you need a license, or a whole bunch of licenses, to implement it. Furthermore, as far as I understand it companies aren't legally obligated to license a patent to any particular party, so if they decide that they don't want you, in particular, competing with them they might decide not to license it to you. All it takes is one company on the list to do this and you can *never* implement that "open standard."

    We should expect this to destroy the usefulness of open standards and bring a big step back to the days when software companies had total control over your computing experience. The Internet itself only exists because of the adoption of an open, non-patented standard, TCP/IP. Imagine if Microsoft, for example, had a patent pending on TCP/IP, where would we be now? Every little Internet app author would have to fork out cash to them, probably on a yearly basis.
  • by Arondylos ( 141298 ) <malte&cornils,net> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:15PM (#2370612) Homepage

    you wrote:

    > The consequences on the
    > growth of the web will be disastrous if we don't
    > take sensible steps like allowing patented
    > technology into web standards.

    Do you have any evidence supporting your claim that Internet growth would be hindered? I mean, it's exactly the opposite: Historically, there have been <b>no</b> patents regulating the use of web technologies and almost everyone would argue that this <i>allowed</i> the web to become ubiquitous.

    With regards to your "transistors claim": one might argue that I have a computer now because the patent on transistors finally expired and computers can be constructed without paying royalties for those, thus empowering me to own a computer even though I'm not exactly wealthy. And that without the patent, we might have had personal computers much earlier.

    And why should patents be necessary to recoup research investments? I thought product sales of the finished/improved product are what's necessary to recoup the costs. Time to market (together with the experience gained by being the first) can be much more preventive of cheap imitators than patents. So, while patents are possibly helpful[1] to securing investments, they are certainly not "absolutely necessary".

    Yours Malte #8-)

    [1] I doubt even that, since most inventors/innovators can't afford to even enter the market because all the base technologies everyone needs are patented and only established players with patent-exchange agreements are able to compete, not newcomers faced with prohibitive royalty costs.
  • by sourcehunter ( 233036 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:23PM (#2370644) Homepage
    I think that the W3C incorporating a "non-discriminatory" license to patents does just the opposite -

    Lets take a look at open source, shall we?

    According to a Netcraft survey ( taken in July 2001, 60% of the internet's web servers STILL RUN APACHE. The reasons for this? It is fast, cheap, and secure. The reason it is all three of these is it is OPEN SOURCE. If the W3C began considering patented technology for standards, and incorporated those standards into core web systems (example: secure, uncopyable web page) then, if that technology uses some server-side component, Apache, the LONG TIME leader in web servers, would be LEFT OUT IN THE COLD and hence, discriminated against.

    Granted, that may the whole point for this move - the authors are from some of the largest IT companies in the US - Microsoft (well, their IP law firm), Apple Computer, and HP. That's fine. It is also counter to the goals of the W3C.

    (quoting from
    "W3C's long term goals for the Web are:

    1) Universal Access: To make the Web accessible to all by promoting technologies that take into account the vast differences in culture, education, ability, material resources, and physical limitations of users on all continents;

    2) Semantic Web : To develop a software environment that permits each user to make the best use of the resources available on the Web;

    3) Web of Trust : To guide the Web's development with careful consideration for the novel legal, commercial, and social issues raised by this technology."

    So unless the W3C wants to become a hypocrisy and a joke, either this proposal has to go, or the original goals have to go. I'd hate to see the goals change. W3C has provided an amazing service to the web community, and if its goals change, I'm afraid that service would cease to exist.

    Don't get me wrong - I am a small business owner and as a small business owner I understand the value of intellectual property as much as if not more than a large company. If my business model is based on my IP, then with it I make money, without it, I fall into the (if I'm not mistaken) 95% of companies that close their doors within the first five years of existence. HOWEVER, I don't think that STANDARDS should be based on patented technologies unless the patent owner freely licenses it to anyone who uses the standard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:28PM (#2370655)
    Corporations "stole" our television airwaves that the government gave to the people and they will "steal" the internet and turn it into a pre-packaged homogonized entertainment device. Remember cant let the people get smarted we might actually figure out what Monsanto and Disney are doing to us and many others in the world, wouldnt want that now would we.
  • by anshil ( 302405 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:46PM (#2370700) Homepage
    What you're forgetting is that the very transistors that make up your beloved computers were once patented. Without that patent, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

    Wrong. At least this is an profable statement in in scietific understanding at least thus "not right".

    The field effect transistor FET was long patent before even the first transistor was build. The patent holder didn't see get a penny.

    I'm not 100% sure how it was with the "classic" PNP transistor. As far I know it was mainly developed by military, they survive pretty well without patents :o)

    On the other hand I've a *very* *very* old book at home about radio technology. It was prior to transistor age, times where all was done with tubes. In on of the last chapters they made an *outlook* to the future of radio technology. One thing they spend several pages was a new effect than when put to speical negative loaded needles, into a strange material (the p material) they could gain intensification effects by this setup. At this times nobody yet understood why and how. but the effect was already known, without an patent. I personally doubt that today electronics would look any different without, how as the same with your postulate this is not proofable so at least also "not right" :o)
  • Re:Sorry. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:12PM (#2370763)
    Haven't we learnt from Rambus(t) already ? There is no place for royalty based patents in a standard.

    It is not a real standard if someone cannot implement it without having to cough up some big $$$.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:17PM (#2370776)
    There is nothing wrong with royalty free patents granted to everyone implementing the standard. PCI is a good example.

    Implementing a standard based on known patent and required Royalty sounds like a conflict of interest of the parties involved. Remeber RAMBUST ? Haven't we learnt anything already ?
  • by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:36PM (#2370819) Homepage Journal

    Patents, in the final analysis, give the corporation power over the people.

    That is simply absurd. The whole point of patents is to give people power over corporations. How do you think it's possible for an inventor to invent something without a big company just stealing it and "cutting out the middleman"?

    This FUD about patents really needs to be brought under control. Patents are the friend of the little guy. Just because big entities have the same rights as little entities doesn't mean the rights are bad.

  • Here we go again. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SeniorDingDong ( 111782 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:15PM (#2370970)
    Yet another time in which we're sending a flurry of email at the last minute with dubious effect. It would have been much better to begin sending in comments sometime between now and back in 1999 when they started deliberations on this. Is there no web site/group that actually keeps tabs on these things? We need to start the discussion at the beginning, or at least as soon as possible rather than 12 hours before time is up.
  • my comment (Score:3, Insightful)

    by twitter ( 104583 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @04:26PM (#2371250) Homepage Journal
    Basing your standards on patented methods will fragment the web and destroy your organization. If you succeed in forcing such debased standards on the web, your corporate masters will no longer need you. If you fail, you will be irrelevant. Either way W3C loses.
  • by thrig ( 36791 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @04:37PM (#2371276)

    True, IETF is very friendly towards business. To the point of letting patented stuff [] get into IETF standards.

  • My response .... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by zangdesign ( 462534 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @04:41PM (#2371291) Journal
    By allowing patented technology to become an officially recognized standard, you essentially favor the creator of the patent in such a manner as to drive all business in that technology to a small group of vendors. The only official standards should be those that are open and freely available to all users.

    For example, GIF should not be a recognized standard, because of the encumbrances by Unisys. The PNG standard is a much better choice because it does not base itself on one company's technology and can be adopted by all. The software used to create a patent can be trademarked, copyrighted, etc., in the author's mannter of choosing, but it does not restrict the file format itself. The PNG format will never undergo the kinds of hassles various authors of GIF-related programs due to Unisys entanglements.

    A consequence of recognizing patented technology is that the W3C runs a severe risk of appearing biased in favor of one company's standard. This will open the W3C up to lawsuits by those whose technologies failed to make the standard. Even the argument of technological superiority would not hold up in court because there is no way to empirically prove that one technology is better than another for all applications.

    Thank you,

    signature follows, etc. etc.
  • by samantha ( 68231 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @07:07PM (#2371700) Homepage
    Something this important should have been brought up here over a month ago. To not hear about it until literally the last day is very surprising and disappointing. What happened? Some of the documents on the W3C site are dated last modified on 8/10/2001.

    That said, I believe we should raise bloody hell. We can't afford to have the standards for the Web become closed and proprietary. I know of no way patents can be enforced without also closing the source of implementations. This is absolutely unacceptable. It is also unacceptable that basic software technology is owned as "property".
  • by mdubinko ( 459807 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @10:27PM (#2372160) Homepage
    Current standards aren't safe _because_ of the current (a.k.a. nonexistent) W3C patent policy.

    As it stands right now, any company could come up with a 'torpedo' patent and lay claim to CSS or HTML or SVG. In fact one company has already "patented" the combination of W3C XForms and W3C XML signatures. When this happens, everyone looses.

    At least with a written policy, no company can claim ignorance.
  • by ( 211629 ) on Monday October 01, 2001 @04:19AM (#2372760) Homepage
    Another agrees with Alan Cox.

    For those who don't want to dig through the whole W3C proposal, here
    is their basic justification for this idea. In the spirit of Noam
    Chomsky, I have attempted to translate what they are really saying. I
    think the agenda is pretty clear.

    <w3c> The sine qua non of the Web revolution is the open standards
    environment on which the Web is built and continues to grow. The
    Web's open technical standards have developed through the open,
    collaborative process created by the World Wide Web Consortium. As
    Web technology has become more commercially critical and the impact
    of software and business process patents are felt more strongly in
    the Web development arena, W3C believes it is necessary to adopt a
    more comprehensive policy and process for addressing the
    relationship between the open technical Recommendations developed
    by W3C and patent rights held by both W3C Members and others.

    <translation> "sine qua non" means "something absolutely indispensable
    or essential." (source: But the W3C can, in just two
    more paragraphs, show us that this revolution is now over and the
    new standards will be "nil sine numine" (nothing without the divine
    will). We know who the divine are and it's not you and me.

    <w3c> The root of the challenge posed by patents in any standards
    arena is that participants in a standards body will be unwilling
    and unable to work collaboratively if, at the end of the process,
    the jointly-developed standard can only be implemented by meeting
    licensing terms that are unduly burdensome, unknown at the
    beginning or even the end of the design process, or considered
    unreasonable. At the same time, many Members invest significant
    research effort in the development of their own intellectual
    property portfolios, so are concerned about protecting and
    benefiting from proprietary technology they have developed or

    <translation> Michele Herman (Microsoft), Scott Peterson (HP),
    Tony Piotrwoski (Philips) and Helene Plotka Workman (Apple) and
    others who form the W3C can't work together on an open standard
    because they really would rather patent the technology. In fact,
    sometimes one of them even stabs the others in the back at the last
    minute by saying "Thank you for helping us develop this standard
    and for helping us promote it. Now guess what. We've got it
    patented! Ha Ha Ha!"

    What they want to do is get each other to agree ahead-of-time that
    this or that standard is going to be patented. They'll probably
    take turns deciding which company gets to own the patent. To
    justify this, they say, it's expensive to do this research.

    I'm sure research like this is expensive, but if expensive research
    is worth it, the market will accept it and make it a defacto
    standard. If the research is patented the research has to be even
    more valuable to the public or it won't be accepted as a
    standard. But no argument is given to the effect that we will get
    more or better research done if that research comes with the
    blessing of the W3C. They just want to get paid for the research
    they are doing. That's not objectionable, but trying to get paid by
    hijacking a previously open standards body has the ugly smell of a
    meat packer bribing the USDA.

    <w3c> In developing a new patent policy for W3C Activities, our goal
    is to affirm the Web community's longstanding preference for
    Recommendations that can be implemented on a royalty-free (RF)
    basis. Where that is not possible, the new policy will provide a
    framework to assure maximum possible openness based on reasonable,
    non-discriminatory (RAND) licensing terms.

    <translation> When our large coporate partners give the signal, we
    will march in step, salute, and endorse a patented technology as
    part of a standard.

    <w3c> The second decade of the Web has already demonstrated that
    patents will be a factor in the ongoing development of the World
    Wide Web infrastructure. A variety of factors suggest that the Web
    will be increasingly affected by the patent process. The Patent
    Policy Working Group (PPWG) has identified the following
    significant factors:

    Convergence: The Web had its origins in the personal computer
    software industry, where patents had seldom been a factor in
    development dynamics. However, as the Web comes into contact with
    the telecommunications, broadcast media and consumer electronics
    industries, the tradition of patenting technology from those
    industries will likely be carried over to the Web. Rise in patent
    issuance: Patent offices, led by the U.S. PTO, are issuing patents,
    especially in the software sector, at record rates. Experience of
    Internet-related standards bodies: A number of standards bodies
    including W3C, IETF, the WAP Forum, and others, have encountered
    potential barriers to acceptance of standards because of licensing
    requirements perceived as onerous. Popularity of business method
    patents: Beginning with the State Street decision in the United
    States and continuing through high-profile litigation between and, business method patents have
    become increasingly significant factor in the ecommerce
    marketplace. These factors make it clear that the W3C must have a
    clear and effective policy to address the inevitable increase in
    patent issues that will come before individual Working Groups and
    the Membership as a whole. </w3c>

    Beyond the traditional software companies, lots of other big media companies also want patents.

    Developers don't accept standards that have LARGE patent fees
    associated with them. (We'll try to give them ones that have
    smaller fees)

    Wow, there are lots of software patents being issued - some of them
    are really idiotic. This is a gold mine we don't want to miss out

    It's funny. None of this is a logical argument for their
    position. They are simply stating what is going on the
    industry. Companies like to patent.

    <w3c> Importance of interoperability for core infrastructure, lower
    down the stack: Preservation of interoperability and global
    consensus on core Web infrastructure is of critical importance. So
    it is especially important that the Recommendations covering
    lower-layer infrastructure be implementable on an RF
    basis. Recommendations addressing higher-level services toward the
    application layer may have a higher tolerance for RAND terms.
    Better disclosure: A clear process, to which Members are committed
    and/or bound to ensure better disclosure of essential patents as a
    condition of Membership, is vital. Access for general public (not
    just Members): Licensing terms for essential technology should be
    available on a non-discriminatory basis to W3C Members and
    non-Members alike. Working Group flexibility: One patent licensing
    framework may not be appropriate to every W3C Working
    Group. Therefore, Working Groups should have flexibility to specify
    minimum licensing terms as part of their work. These intellectual
    property rights requirements should then become the basis for
    Advisory Committee and Director review of the resulting

    <translation> These vague and unenforceable guidelines will protect
    the process from getting out of hand.

    Our member companies won't screw each other by keeping silent about
    their patent intentions until the end.

    We'll let the public comment, but we can ignore what they say.

    Each working group can rewrite the rules whenever they want.

    The W3C is sowing the seeds of their own destruction. What we are
    likely to get are lots patents of not all that great commercial
    appeal. If a company has an idea for a patent with lots of commercial
    appeal, they won't put it in the W3C which might restrict the royalty
    fee they can charge. If something is truly revolutionary, it will
    follow normal patent routes. The market will decide. If something is
    less than truly revolutionary, these companies will try to get the W3C
    to endorse it and hope that that will fool people into using it. Then
    they'll spring the royalty fees on us.

    Then we'll all hate the W3C and it will become a large rotting useless
    body. The web will "mature" like other technolgies where innovation
    happens as often as it did in Europe during the middle ages.

  • CSS (Score:1, Insightful)

    by KjetilK ( 186133 ) < minus physicist> on Monday October 01, 2001 @07:42AM (#2373008) Homepage Journal
    To address the example: CSS is entirely Håkon Wium Lie's baby, and I know him, and he's a really good guy. He is now CTO of Opera, but joined because he believed that Opera is needed to maintain the diversity in browsers. He is a firm believer in the necessity of open standards, and I'm sure nothing will get in the way of that.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl