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Net patent tax – W3C publishes new advice

Merry go RAND

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Updated The W3C has published a revised Patent Policy document which it hopes will help avert a schism over web standards.

But it's not a new policy draft. That's under discussion, and recent minutes on the progress of this can be found here

Under pressure from IBM, the W3C suggested that royalty-bearing patents should in future be blessed as web standards, under a 'RAND' license.

To date all W3C standards have been royalty-free, which, it's universally agreed, has helped accelerate the adoption of web technologies. It's also allowed small developers to work without fear of expensive intellectual property litigation, and allowed free software authors - forbidden from linking to patent-encumbered code by the GPL, to develop open implementations.

"The policy of licensing patents under RAND terms and conditions has allowed our best technical individuals to work together without becoming burdened by patent issues," IBMer Gerald Lane wrote last year, in support of royalties.

The RAND addition was stalled after the issue blew up at the end of September, with open source developers advocating the formation of an alternative to the W3C, if royalty-bearing licenses became an option. Now, with the input of Bruce Perens and Eben Moglen, a compromise has been reached.

This doesn't rule out RAND licenses however. Instead the compromise suggests kicking them into the long grass for 90 days, while a PAG (Patent Advisory Group) is formed. The proposal then needs approval by the working group Advisory Board and the Director.

The W3C at this stage notes that it would really rather not have to deal with it, and could RAND-proposers please look elsewhere:

"Note that there is neither clear support amongst the Membership for producing RAND specifications nor a process for doing so. Therefore if a PAG makes a recommendation to proceed on RAND terms, Advisory Committee review and Director's decision will be required. It is also possible that a the PAG could recommend that the work be taken to another organization."

Bruce Perens told us via email last night:-"Obviously the policy is very pro-RF, so anyone who was trying to lobby for RAND did not succeed. But that doesn't mean they can't go to any other standards body - for example ECMA, with their RAND standards."

Perens said he couldn't comment on individual positions adopted during the formulation of the new policy by any Big or Blue members.

Head of Communications for the W3C, Janet Daly, added:-

"it's not a revision of policy - it's like a backgrounder," she said.

"There's now a window into seeing how W3C work is done in relation to issues concerning patents ... you no longer need to an attorney to understand how the W3C is making efforts to be be absolutely clear about a preference for IP work and how to how to resolve questons when RF is not explicitly stated."

"We're moving from implicit to explicit modes, and we're moving to explicit in full public view."

So in advance of the new Policy Draft, RAND remains on the table, for bidders wishing to risk the flak, which won't please GPL developers one bit. On the other hand, even if a RAND specification reaches the end of the procedural assault course, and gets the directors blessing as a W3C standard, it may be so poisonous that no one (apart from IBM), would want to touch it.

The revised PPWG Policy draft, which is RF, is still under discussion. But that will bring some welcome clarification. ®

Related Link

W3C: Current Patent Practice [the new draft]

Related Stories

IBM risks billion dollar Linux strategy with W3C RAND demands
W3C defends RAND license
The free Web's over, as W3C blesses Net patent taxes
Tempers cool in Pay to Play Web row

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