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W3C defends RAND license

Extends review period

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The W3C has extended the public review period for its RAND proposal - which would permit royalty-bearing proprietary technologies to become web standards for the first time in the W3C's history.

The review period opened on 16 August, but it was only at the weekend, 18 hours before it was due to expire, that world+dog took notice of the controversial proposal.

The W3C also issued an FAQ on the subject.

While acknowledging that Royalty Free licenses have been "essential" to the widespread adoption of web technologies, and that software libre developers are "critical to its success", it adds:-

"W3C also recognizes that software patents exist (and patent issues have become more prevalent with the growth of the Web), and ignoring them will do more harm than good."

The note says that the RAND issue emerged as a way of avoiding 'submarine patents' and ensuring full disclosure of patents, with "the expectation that information will allow a Working Group to proceed as is, to work around a perceived patent obstacle, or to abandon work entirely if perceived to be too encumbered by patents."

That's pretty much how it works now, we thought: if a technology is believed to be encrusted with proprietary patents, it's either bounced out of the W3C, or an open and royalty-free alternative is eventually worked out.

What has infuriated the free software community is that RAND appears to give active encouragement to royalty-bearing patent holders to forward their wares to the W3C - which they argue represents a dramatic commercialisation of open Web technologies, to the detriment of free software implementations.

W3C press officer Janet Daly points out (as several readers have) that the IETF has blessed royalty-bearing patents with its own RAND license for several years.

"Yes, but the IETF isn't advancing toward the rear," open source license watcher Karsten Self told us. "The W3C is moving from RF to RAND while the IETF is under strong pressure to emphasize, or exclusively adopt, RF."

EFF co-founder John Gilmore acknowledged the point to in his analysis of the W3C RAND move, but responded:-

"I've served on standards committees. I also understand why these bodies are full of fights among organizations to get THEIR technology adopted as a standard. It's so THEY can get the windfall profit from forcing everyone else to license it," he wrote.

"The companies have rigged the government standards game so that big companies with big patent portfolios get extra advantages from standardization."

We'll be hooking up with the W3C's Patent Policy Committee later today - if you have polite(-ish) questions, we'll ask them. ®

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