[Discussioni] Slashdot | W3C Patent Board Recommends Royalty-Free Policy

Francesco Potorti` pot a softwarelibero.it
Mar 8 Ott 2002 12:10:28 CEST


 [IMG]W3C Patent Board          
 Recommends Royalty-Free Policy 
 The InternetPosted  by Hemos  on Monday October  07, @07:58AM  from the
 making-the-smart-choices dept.   Bruce Perens  writes "A year  ago, the
 World Wide Web Consortium proposed a policy to allow royalty-generating
 patents to be embedded in web  standards. This would have been fatal to
 the ability  of Free Software  to implement those standards.  There was
 much protest, including over 2000 emails to the W3C Patent Policy Board
 spurred on by a call to arms  published on Slashdot. As a result of the
 complaints,  I   was  invited  to  join  W3C's   patent  policy  board,
 representing Software in the  Public Interest (Debian's corporation) --
 but really  the entire Free Software  community. I was  later joined in
 this by  Eben Moglen,  for FSF,  and Larry Rosen,  for the  Open Source
 Initiative." Bruce has written more below - it's well worth reading.
 After a year of argument  and see-sawing, W3C's patent policy board has
 voted to  recommend a  royalty-free patent policy.  This recommendation
 will be  put in the  form of a  draft and released for  public comment.
 There will  probably be a dissenting  minority report from  some of the
 large patent  holders. Tim Berners-Lee and the  W3C Advisory Committee,
 composed of representatives from  all of the consortium's members, will
 eventually  make  the  final   decision  on  the  policy.  My  previous
 interaction with the Advisory Committee and Berners-Lee lead me to feel
 that they will approve the royalty-free policy.
 The policy will require working  group members to make a committment to
 royalty-free license  essential claims -  those which you can  not help
 infringing if you are to implement  the standard at all.  There is also
 language prohibiting  discriminatory patent licenses.  The royalty-free
 grant is limited to the  purpose of implementing the standard, and does
 not  extend to  any other  application of  the patent.  And there  is a
 requirement to  disclose whether any patent used,  even a non-essential
 one, is available under royalty-free terms, so that troublesome patents
 can be written out of a standard. The limitation of the scope-of-use on
 patents, and  some other aspects of  the policy, are less  than I would
 like but all  that I believed we could reasonably  get. Eben Moglen may
 have  some discussion  regarding how  GPL developers  should  cope with
 scope-of-use-limited  patent grants  from  other parties.  For now,  it
 should suffice to  say that while this is less  than desirable, is will
 not block GPL development.
 I'm not allowed to disclose how individual members voted, but I'll note
 that the vote  did not follow "friends-vs-enemies" lines  that the more
 naive among us might expect - so don't make assumptions.
 Now, we must  take this fight elsewhere. Although  IETF has customarily
 been  held  up  as  the  paragon  of  openness,  they  currently  allow
 royalty-bearing patents  to be embedded in their  standards.  This must
 change,  and  IETF has  just  initiated  a  policy discussion  to  that
 effect. We must pursue similar policies at many other standards bodies,
 and at the governments and treaty organizations that persist in writing
 bad law.
 For me,  this process has included two  trips to France (no  fun if you
 have to  work every  day) and  an appearance at  a research  meeting in
 Washington,  a  week in  Cupertino,  innumerable  conference calls  and
 emails, and upcoming  meetings in New York and Boston.  That's a lot of
 time away from my family.   Larry Rosen has shouldered a similar burden
 while nobody  has been paying  him for his  time and trouble,  and Eben
 Moglen  put in  a lot  of time  as  well. Much  of the  time was  spent
 listening to royalty-bearing proposals being worked out in excrutiating
 detail, which fortunately did not carry  in the final vote. We also had
 help from a  number of people behind the  scenes, notably John Gilmore,
 and the officers and members of the organizations we represent.
 I'd like to give credit to  HP.  Because I was representing SPI, and HP
 had someone  else representing them  at W3C, I  made it clear to  my HP
 managers that they  would not be allowed to influence my  role at W3C -
 that  would have  created a  conflict-of-interest  for me,  as well  as
 giving HP  unfair double-representation.  HP  managers understood this,
 and were  supportive. During all  but the very  end of the  process, HP
 paid  my  salary  and  travel  expenses  while they  knew  that  I  was
 functioning as  an independent agent who would  explicitly reject their
 orders. Indeed,  HP allowed me  to influence their policy,  rather than
 the reverse. This was the result of enlightened leadership by Jim Bell,
 Scott K. Peterson, Martin Fink, and Scott Stallard.                                                   
 For  most of the  existence of  Free Software,  technology has  been of
 primary importance. It will remain  so, but the past several years have
 seen  the  emergence  of  the  critical supporting  role  of  political
 involvement simply so that we can continue to have the right to use and
 develop Free  Software. I do not  believe that we  will consistently be
 able to code around bad law - we must represent what is important about
 our work and  involve ourselves in policy-making worldwide,  or what we
 do will  not survive.  I hope  to continue to  serve the  Free Software
 Community in this role.
 Respectfully Submitted                                            
 Bruce Perens

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