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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 none2222 ( 161746 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @12:45PM (#2370533)
    Slashdot's pathological hatred of patents is silly and immature. Patents are absolutely necessary to allow businesses to recoup their research investments.

    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.

    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? I don't think we should. 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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @12:55PM (#2370559)
    This was bound to happen sooner or later. The same thing happened years ago with HTML 3.2. W3C had HTML 3.0 spec which had some neat things and was trying to bring sanity into demented HTML that browsers at the time were "implementing."

    For reasons never disclosed to public, browser vendors didn't want to implement HTML 3.0. Except free browser projects, but their users were minority and the development resources were really small.

    Then, one day, HTML 3.2 was revealed to the world. In terms of features it was a downgrade from HTML 3.0. In terms of sanity it had none, because it merely "standardised the current state," according to W3C. That explicitely excluded free browsers which implemented parts of HTML 3.0 and were going to implement more, but W3C never cared about them.

    There never was a public discussion about HTML 3.2. After the publication the amount of flames from the free world on W3C lists was enormous. Unlike flames on Slashdot, where flamers rarely know anything about the subject of their flame, this was flaming from the people who knew everything about the subject. And it was going on for months. I don't think Slashdot flames ever managed to reach the level of revolt HTML 3.2 produced.

    And now it's happening again. Surprised? You shouldn't be.

    You see, W3C is a vendor consortium and vendor consortiums take care about interests of its members. That's why they exist.

  • copy of my comments (Score:2, Interesting)

    by inicom ( 81356 ) <> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:09PM (#2370598) Homepage
    My comments as send to the PPWG:


    I've just read the Patent Policy WG FAQ and I have grave concerns about the
    world wide web consortium pursuing this avenue.

    The value of the W3C is dependent on the value of the standards it
    promulgates. The value of those standards depends on their widest adoption by
    the global internet community. Adoption by the internet community is
    dependent on the ease and value of implementing those standards.

    As a member of the internet community since 1984, I've seen a few standards
    come and go.

    As an inventor with a few patents, I know exactly what the value of patents
    are. Companies and individuals do not go through the work of obtaining
    patents because it is fun, or inexpensive. They do so with the intention of
    profiting from them before they expire.

    Allowing patented technologies to become w3c standards will benefit no one
    except the patent holder. Having the internet community given the choice of
    supporting w3c standards and paying license fees or developing non-patented
    pseudo-standards will result in a plethora of divergent and redundant
    standards in use. The value of the w3c will go into the toilet.

    I urge you to disband the working group and abandon this policy from

    Dr. Andrew E. Mossberg,
    Chief Technical Officer, Asoki Corporation
    Chief Information Officer,
    President, Inicom, Inc.
    Director, Fuzzy Theory LLC.
  • by bero-rh ( 98815 ) <> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:27PM (#2370651) Homepage
    Feel free to reuse the parts you like... It's intentionally mostly free of Microsoft- or patent-bashing (you know who will make the final decision...)
    Unfortunately I didn't see Alan's reply before writing up mine, he surely has some points I should have included.

    I believe the adaption of possibly non-royalty-free standards by W3C would
    be a fatal mistake. Please take the time to consider the implications:

    • Non-profit organizations or individuals, such as open source developers, can no longer implement the w3c standards, effectively making browsing the web from open source operating systems impossible.

      Right now, projects like Konqueror, Mozilla, Lynx, Links and even your own Amaya are doing a pretty good job - but they can't continue if they have to pay to implement the next set of standards.
    • Non-profit projects aside, it will also be much harder for a new company to get started because the barrier of entry will be much higher.
    • The Internet got where it is solely because it is based totally on open standards.

      If you have been on the net long enough, you will have noticed that all attempts to create a similar infrastructure based on closed "standards" have ultimately failed (e.g. Europe Online) or turned to open standards, basically becoming an ISP and an internet portal (AOL,
      Compuserve, MSN)
    • Consider what happened with the unisys patent and compressed gif graphics. When unisys started wanting royalties for gif pictures, pretty much everything on the net had to be converted, even though gif was never officially endorsed by w3c.

      The problem becomes much bigger once someone starts charging royalties for something that is even a w3c standard (imagine some company finding
      a reason for charging royalties on the a href= html tag).
    • There are already open formats for almost every purpose out there. If, for example, you can't get a guarantee that the SVG format will never require royalties, create/use an alternate standard. For an alternative to SVG, starting from Kontour ('s XML based vector graphics format comes to mind.

    I can understand the reasoning behind allowing RAND; yet I think it will cause far more trouble than it's worth.
    Please reconsider.
  • by james(honest) ( 452503 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:48PM (#2370703)
    Slashdot's pathological hatred of patents is silly and immature. Patents are absolutely necessary to allow businesses to recoup their research investments.

    This is an opinion that you share with many in business that has never actually been proven. Patents do allow large businesses to make money, that much is certain. In particular, large businesses can ignore the patents of smaller businesses, who cannot afford the legal fees to protect their patents. Meanwhile, investors simply wont invest in a small company unless it has patents, which forces us all to gain them, even if we dont believe in them.

    So, please provide some evidence before you spout off calling us silly and immature.

    I have read reports that when the www came on-line in 1993 that innovation and development flourished in Europe, however patent filing suffered because everyone could claim some part of the innovation. That is, greater communication caused innovation, not patents. Now, many company's aware of this, actively prevent communication, so that they can get patents. Therefor, patents are preventing communication, and therefor, patents prevent innovation.

    The idea that patents are to encourage people to invest is debunked by the number of patents that are awarded for incredibly obvious things. The stantard arguement against this is "its only obvious because you've seen it already". However I have direct personal experience where we have come up with a solution to a problem and found later that it was patented. That is, we have had a problem, and solved in a very obvious and easy way, and found that someone got a patent for it last year. I have seen patent's where the innovation is a new using of two existing standards where that use was actually documented in the standards!

    However, even if we managed to smarten up patent judges, to remove the awarding of obvious patents, I still believe that patents are not neccessary to protect investment. The arguement for patents is that someone can spend a bunch of time and materials creating a new design, which someone else then comes along and copies. However, this idea is not real. The most difficult aspects of some of our inventions have not been patented, because they cant be, however a competitor will find them hard to copy without expending the same effort.

    Finally, copying a thing does not invalidate the investment of the original inventor, because the inventor knows why it was made that way, while the copier only knows how. If someone copies our product, it will take them many months to do so, and at the end of it, we will be rolling out version two. They, however, will not have the understanding to make a version two of their own, and will have to wait for ours to copy.

    Patents are a tool of investors. It makes the people with the money the most important, not the people with the ideas, or the people who would benefit from them. Getting rid of patents will improve the quality of life of everyone. End of story.

  • by ClarkEvans ( 102211 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @01:53PM (#2370714) Homepage
    First, the parent post is not flame bait. It is a different opinion; which I happen to think is flawed, but this is besides the point.

    Patent law exists to "promote the sciences and useful arts". It does not, nor should it exist to "allow businesses to recoup their research investments". This is natural-right thinking which is explicitly rejected by the founding fathers via the constitution.

    The biggest problem with patent law is that it is now the providence of big business and lawyers; when it was originally there for "inventors". Patent mechansim is not very accessable by the general developer... else we would have far less patents since the PTO would be more up-to-speed with what is "obvious". The PTO also pays it's evaluators poorly. I can get over 6 figures in the marketplace, but the PTO could only offer me 40K beacuse I don't have a masters (and then it'd be 50K or so, 60K for a pHd). How can we expect the evaluators to know what is obvious if (a) they arn't practitioners and (b) they are underpaid.

    I'd rather have a "patent duty" like "jury duty" be put out for average developers... where they are paid at the prevaling wadge for ONE YEAR of service, after which they return to the market. Now, this would help prevent those big companies from patenting stupid stuff...

  • by dlaur ( 135032 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:06PM (#2370745)
    Don't post here - send them an email instead! (Or do both!) I put in my 2 cents (since I don't know what else to do...)

    There were only 7 comments archived in August and merely 9 in the month of September... until yesterday! Way to go guys! (I have to assume that Slashdotters helped pummel them with comments.)

    You can see everyone's comments here: li cy-comment

    Last time I looked there were 250+ comments! Fortunately, most of them were opposed to incorporating patented technology into W3C recommendations.

  • Re:Sorry. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:08PM (#2370748)
    I don't get it .. So existing business A submits technology A under patent and uses it. Your saying that a new business B should be able to start and use technology from business A without their permission. That's laughable. If business B wants to do something then let them do it better with there own technology B. We don't need 100 companies doing the same thing that someone already did.

    CASE IN POINT: If linux is so better than M$ as you all put it. Then why don't people start using linux in the masses. Why cause linux on the desktop is not better than M$.

    M$ offers a complete package. Linux does not.
  • THANK YOU!!! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:24PM (#2370791)
    Thank god, someone actually REMEMBERS back past 1998!

    Yes, as someone who was at the time QUITE excited about HTML 3.0, I all to readily remember how the W3C let the draft die on the vine. I don't recall any complaints from the W3C about Netscape and Microsoft BUTCHERING the HTML standards...only outsiders like myself uttered any complaints (which fell on deaf ears).

    I gave up on the W3C after HTML 3.0 died. Perhaps 3.0 was too far-reaching...but then again, far-reaching ideas are needed sometimes. I feel that the W3C caved into the interests of Netscape (primarily).

    Imagine...we could have had working style sheets in place back in 1995. The mess of fonts, colours and god-knows-what-else could have been dealt with in the orderly manner provided by HTML 3.0, in 1995...but alas, it was not to be.

  • by marm ( 144733 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @02:39PM (#2370828)

    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."

    Indeed. One must also remember the shakiness of the control that the W3C has over Web standards - if Web developers and Browser developers choose to ignore the W3C then their leverage simply disappears.

    Therefore, if the W3C does indeed allow this recommendation to become a standard, then I propose a solution:

    Ignore them.

    If Web and browser developers need to advance the state-of-the-art in Web technology, then do it through the IETF standards process rather than the W3C.

    I do not like the idea of a balkanised web, where IE (following the W3C standards) must be treated differently to every other browser (following the hypothetical IETF standards), but, in a sense, this is what we already have on the Web, so there is no great loss.

    If IE users find themselves unable to view... oooh, the 20% of the web that might follow these IETF standards, then Microsoft will soon change its tune, much as the push towards CSS-styled web sites has helped IE's CSS compliance. Who knows? In the meantime it could even be an excellent way of reducing the dominance of IE in the browser market.

    So go ahead, W3C, make these changes in your patent policy. It will only spell the end of any control you have.

  • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:15PM (#2370969)
    In fact the only niches for patented 'standard extensions' all involve commerce.

    And copy protection.

    In 6-8 months when someone patents a meta tag that disables the "View Source" button and disables Copy/Paste, if the PTO doesn't think it's an obvious invention send them a link to this comment.
  • IETF IP policy (Score:2, Interesting)

    by leonia ( 246522 ) on Sunday September 30, 2001 @03:54PM (#2371127) Homepage
    In fairness, it should be noted that many IETF
    standards are also encumbered by patents. See []

    Some patent holder grant the rough equivalent of
    RF licenses, others RAND licenses. Only the latter
    is a requirement according to RFC 2026.

    One interesting difference, however, is that one
    needs at least two independent, interoperable
    implementations, both of which have to have exercised the licensing policy, to advance a document from Proposed to Draft Standard stage.

    (For reasons unrelated to IPR issues, most recent
    IETF RFCs are Proposed Standards, not Draft
  • by Florian Weimer ( 88405 ) <> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @06:05PM (#2371549) Homepage
    I understand that people are a bit carried away by their fear of patents. So far, most submissions only reject the idea of patent-based Web technology, but fail to mention severe defects in the protocol outlined in the draft. This is a bit unfortunate because these concerns will be dealt with at the political level (at which the the decisions has already been made in one direction or the other), and the problems at the technical level remain if the draft is implemented despite the political opposition.

    For example, errors in the definition of an Essential Claim leave many, many loopholes. An example: If some patented technology is included in the later stage of a Recommendation, a patent owner can, in full compliance with the W3C procedures, obtain a patent without the need to disclose it. And that's not the only error. Basically, the patent holder decides which patents to reveal and which to hold back, and W3C cannot do anything about it. This makes most of the draft meaningless.

    My submission was wirtten hastily, so it's probably full of typos,strange thoughts and lack of facts, but if you are interested nevertheless, it's available at: -30.pdf []

  • by Gerv ( 15179 ) <> on Sunday September 30, 2001 @06:20PM (#2371587) Homepage
    If this becomes the official Patent Policy of the W3C, even current standards (CSS 1 and 2, HTML 4) are not safe from retroactive patent encumbrance.

    Section 5.3 of the policy provides for the possibility of re-chartering an existing Working Group under a new Licensing Mode (i.e., given that no-one would have an incentive to change it the other way, re-chartering an RF Working Group as a RAND Working Group.)

    The Patent Advisory Group (the drafters of the new policy) can initiate this process and (albeit after approval from the Director), all the members get thrown out and have to be re-nominated, and *licensing commitments made by Working Group members under the older charter are void.*

    In other words, if the e.g. CSS Working Group were dissolved and reconsituted in this way, companies could start charging licensing fees for the patents they hold on current CSS standards - either under RAND, or (worse) by withdrawing from the process completely and licensing under discriminatory terms.

    Who has CSS patents, and who would they like to discriminate against?

  • The well of ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Monday October 01, 2001 @04:18AM (#2372758) Homepage
    Ahmed had wasted his first wish foolishly, and his second wish
    just to undo his first. Now he had one more wish remaining and
    he was determined to do it right this time. He was now determined
    to do something for others instead of for himself. He saw the
    suffering in his desert town. There was only one well in the
    town, and it was frequently drying up, or so everyone was told by
    the old man who owned it. The old man charged a handsome price
    to drink from the well; only on the days it was flowing.

    "I wish ...", he said as he paused, thinking carefully to make
    sure he did not make yet another mistake, for he had no fourth
    wish with which to correct any mistake. "I wish for a well which
    shall flow abundantly at all times, and provide water for all the
    people, and cannot be owned by anyone, or taxed or otherwise held
    for any ransom."

    The genie acknowledged his wish and promptly vanished, never to be
    seen again. Now he wondered if he would have what he wished for
    as he emerged from his small tent to find a noise near the center
    of town. So he went to see what this was.

    When he arrived at the center of town, he saw before him a sight
    never had anyone seen in any desert town before. Right in the
    center of town there was a might gusher of water springing forth.
    So much water that it was flowing down one of the streets and went
    flowing out into the desert for a mile before drying up.

    No one had known that it was Ahmed who had wished for this. Even
    he was unsure that it was his wish that had brought such a bounty.
    He told no one. Surely they would not believe him anyway. But
    his real desire was for his town to prosper and be happy, and so
    it was. And so, Ahmed was happy.

    For 10 years the well did flow. Night and day it did flow. The
    trade routes across the desert changed over the years to come by
    way of the town. The people had built a great trough to make it
    so a thousand camels could drink from the water at the same time.
    No one had even seen a hundred camels at one time before the day
    the great well sprang up. Now there were hundreds of traders and
    thousands of camels. The more that drank from the well, the more
    it gushed forth.

    No one paid for any water, but the people of the town became rich
    anyway, because so much trade came by that everything else was
    being bought and sold. The town prospered greatly, and even Ahmed
    had become richer than his very first wish had made him.

    Why was the old man digging a new well? He had toiled on it for
    two years, he and his six sons and twenty grandsons. They already
    had one well that flowed only some, and now another? But water
    did come from his new well regularly, but only one bucket at a
    time as before. Why was he doing this, Ahmed wondered.

    Another year had passed and not only was the town prospering, but
    even nearby towns which had no magic wells were also prospering
    just because the trade routes were larger than they ever had been.
    Ahmed travelled to see the wonders of his magic well and how it
    had affected all the people in so many towns. There was plenty
    of trade through all the land, and so many new things to be traded
    that even Ahmed could not have imagined to wish for had he even a
    thousand wishes.

    Ahmed had travelled for almost a year in his land and was now
    returning home to his town which was now thirty times larger than
    it was many years before. He looked forward to sleeping again in
    his house, which had replaced his small tent. But as he arrived
    home, he saw what he could not yet imagine.

    A long line of people had formed in front of the well the old man
    and his family had dug up. He was bring up water from his well,
    and charging more for this water than he had ever charged before.
    And the people were paying for it. Ahmed came to one man in the
    line and ask why? The man said "I must drink, and here is the
    place for water."

    "What of the great magic well?" Ahmed asked, careful to not say he
    had wished for one that would flow forever. "Is it not flowing?"
    "It is" the man in line said, "but it is poison".

    Terrified, Ahmed rushed into the center of town only to see the
    well still gushing forth, but no one drinking of it, nor anyone
    watering their camels, nor filling their flasks. Walls had been
    built up around it. As Ahmed approach the well to check the water
    someone recognized him and came to him and warned him. "Over a
    thousand people have died after you left." he said. "The poison
    is slight, but if you drink more than one drink every two days it
    will cause you a horrible sickness, and if you continue, you will
    surely die, as did my wife and half of my children."

    "How did this happen?" Ahmed demanded to know. "The old man who
    has the other wells, it must be he who has done this." came the
    terrifying answer. "He came to the well one day with a small
    golden chalice and filled it, then poured it back in and laughed."
    The man continued, "that day two thousand became sick, and the
    next day three hundred people and three thousand camels died."

    As the years went on, the great well did continue to flow. It did
    not stop, not even in the greatest of droughts and famines. The
    old man now had three wells from which he sold water, and owned
    almost all the land in and around the town. No one was allowed to
    dig new wells. Most of the traders stopped coming. Few people
    remained in the town. The riches had come to an end, except for
    one family. The old man now had three wells and they flowed as
    well as any well normally did. His business was brisk, and it
    made him and his family rich. He was even richer than he was in
    the time of the great well. But no one else was.

    But soon the town dwindled to just a few people. The old man had
    passed away, and most of his family moved on to other towns in the
    land. Two of his sons stayed, but without the traders coming in
    such numbers as during the great well, even they were no longer

    Ahmed was thirsty, and grabbed two coins and went down to the well
    still run by the old man's two sons. "One drink" he asked, as he
    held out his hand offering the two coins. "Sorry, the well is not
    flowing today. Come back tomorrow and bring four coins." Ahmed
    wondered if maybe he should just take one drink from the magic
    well. But he knew he could not do that as often as he needed to

    And Ahmed soon moved away to another town, not wanting to even see
    the great well anymore, for it was such an ugly sight.

    Today, the ideas of the thousands are the great well of bounty
    that flows into our technological economy. We all prosper from
    such a well, but no one prospers above the others. It is shared
    and we all prosper equally in our own way. Those who would want
    to change things so the well flows only for them would seek to
    stop the well from flowing. Since they cannot stop it, the best
    they can do is poison it. Everyone prospers when everyone shares
    in that prosperity. Poison the well of ideas, and the prosperity
    only comes to those who have the poison. But even their level of
    prosperity, while more than the others, will diminish.

    So many patents do not serve to advance ideas, but only serve to
    corner markets. Most patents do not bring water to the well, but
    only poison it.

    Technology runs at such a pace the patent office can no longer do
    the things it needs to do. The patent office just leaves it up to
    the courts to decide which is valid and which is not, so they will
    just issue all but the most obviously duplications. Few ever get
    taken to court because the cost of doing that is so high. Patents
    may be intended to advance the science and the arts, but today
    they are not doing this at a level anywhere near what should be
    expected from the number issued. One of the greatest advances we
    have seen in the last several years, the internet, has advanced
    the science and the arts with virtually no patents at all.

    Unpoisoned ideas are what makes us all prosper, and when we all
    share in that prosperity, then it is the greatest prosperity.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire