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[FYI] Web standards schism "terrible" - W3C patent policy boss


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Web standards schism "terrible" - W3C patent policy boss   

By Andrew Orlowski in San Francisco   

Posted: 02/10/2001 at 19:27 GMT   

A web standards schism would be "a terrible thing", says the man at 
the centre of the firestorm over the blessing of royalty-bearing 
patents by the World Wide Web Consortium. Danny Weitzner is the head 
of the W3C's Patent Policy Working Group, and we caught up with him 
earlier today.   

We raised the prospect of a breakaway after the ferocious reaction to 
the W3C's mooted RAND license. The suggestion that royalty-bearing 
licenses (RAND) should take their place alongside royalty-free 
licenses would make open source implementations difficult or 
impossible, say community luminaries. The public mailing list has 
drawn over a thousand critical comments since Saturday.   

The nightmare scenario runs like this.   

A company introduces a royalty-bearing technology under a RAND 
license, and it become a W3C-approved standard. The free software 
community decides not to pay the piper, and sets about creating a 
royalty-free and open alternative.   

"That would be a terrible thing," says Weitzner. While acknowledging 
that it's a possibility he says, "for me as the chairman of the 
working group we'll do everything possible to prevent this."   

"We are looking for other ways to keep this discussion going, but we 
don't expect everyone's going to be one hundred per cent satisfied," 
he told us.   

Wouldn't the fear of a balkanization of the web cause W3C members to 
pause before blessing a standard that incorporates a punitive patent? 
"I'd hope that's true. If we did stuff in RAND mode, and the open 
source people were going to use a different technology in a royalty-
free license, it would have to cause us to think about it."   

However Weitzner defended the RAND license on the basis that it puts 
patent nasties upfront, and forces patent holders to declare their 
interests at the start of the standards process:-   

He cites the example of the P3P issue. In that case, Platform for 
Privacy Preferences discussions were well-advanced when one of the 
participants - Intermind - declared that it had relevant patents and 
demanded a royalty of 1 per cent. The W3C hired a patent attorney and 
found examples of prior art, but the process took a year.   

That wouldn't be permitted under the dual-track RAND/RF licenses, he 

At the time of the Intermind dispute, Weitzner was vocal in his 
defense of royalty-free as the One True License Model. "Weitzner is 
equally insistent that the only way a privacy standard would gain 
widespread industry adoption is if it is open and license-free," 
noted Interactive Week.   

What changed his mind?   

"We observed some general trends, and concluded that we should at 
least think about RAND," he says.   

"Number is one that overused word, 'convergence'. More and more we're 
seeing the convergence of the Web into broadcasting, consumer 
electronics, broadcasting and telecoms, and I would suggest that 
they've pretty much succeeded in RAND mode," says Weitzner.   

Ah yes, but RAND-style licensors currently have to fight to get a 
patent through the W3C. Doesn't the W3C's RAND give them a green 
light to do so?   

Again, he disagrees, arguing that the proposal still has to be 
ratified, and hoping that the patent holder would realize that they 
"have to make money by implementing it well", as he puts it, rather 
than seeing a web standard as a cash cow. "We'll use every tool at 
our disposal to clear the way for a Royalty-Free proposal".   

We asked if the W3C stood to gain financially from RAND licenses?   

"The W3C owns no patents and takes no revenue," he says.   

Wouldn't it accept even a little bakseesh in the form of 
administrative fees?   

"Absolutely not. That's between the licensor and the licensee. 
There's no cut for the W3C."   

Weitzner is leaving the door open, with an extended review period. On 
a number of occasions he stressed that royalty-free standards had 
been instrumental in the adoption of the Web. And he described such 
standards as a valuable social contract.   

However the determination of the open source community to develop 
royalty-free alternatives should the need arise is equally strong. 
Should a RAND license be eventually adopted by the W3C, an 
alternative is sure to be created.   

Whether that involves the creation of alternative web standards 
umbrella, or the adoption of web standards into an existing body, or 
simply the trench warfare option of taking each RAND standard as it 
comes, remains to be seen. ®   

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