W3C considering Fee Based Standards
Posted 30 Sep 2001 at 06:18 UTC by jamesh
It looks like the W3C is considering
changes to their patent
policies that would allow recommendations to be covered by patents
provided under "Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory" (RAND) licensing
terms. For information on how this affects you, go to this analysis of the proposed
policy and how it may affect Free Software.
The last call review period ends 30 September 2001. If you have
comments, you should send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The comments sent to this address are archived at:
I got some
feedback from Bernard Lang. The authors of the document are all big
I suspect some patenter to make some "innovation" in standard and say :
"Ok, we got a patent for that, but there is not problem for free
software, they got the RAND licensing".
How to trust these companies ? There is some important issue with the
free-software licensing and the RAND (random ? 8-) license.
The standard has to be open without any restriction at all !
At the moment the W3C standards are having to fight with proprietary
ones, and in some cases they look like they are not winning.
Introducing recommendations encumbered by patents is going to loose the
W3C's major advantage, namely that their standards can freely be
implemented by anyone. This change in policy risks a return to the
damaging browser wars, which most of us hoped to never see again.
...that less otherwise mostly intelligent people will be seen blabbing "XML this", "*ML that" and "*MLBLAH other" with their eyes glazed over?
it's high time to realize that W3C is largely a machine built to mass-produce multitudes of idiotic "standards" in a (futile) bid to embrace life, the universe and everything. let them charge for their drivel and die a painful death.
Before everybody shoots off at the mouth about the W3C's
proposed new policy, they should probably understand the old/existing
The fact of the matter is that the new policy makes it a lot clearer
when patented technology is making its way into a specification. Under
the old policy, something could make it all the way to Recommendation
without a discussion about what terms the specification would be
It's good that the debate about RAND vs. RF is out in the open, but stop
demonizing the W3C on this issue. They've done a good job of bringing
this debate into the community.
IETF, posted 1 Oct 2001 at 03:31 UTC by mtearle »
If you wish to work on standards, the IETF is a much better and more
democratic model. It is very difficult for an individual outside one of
the W3C member organisations to have any effect on their standards
process (unless previously
invited to participate)
Where to start..., posted 1 Oct 2001 at 03:38 UTC by mnot »
I can't really believe the hot air going around on this one. A few
thoughts and random corrections;
- This is not a surprise; the Last Call Working Draft was announced on
the W3C's home page on August 20, and has been available for comment
- the Process hasn't been modified for this draft; skipping Candidate
Recommendation is a normal thing for certain types of documents.
- The W3C doesn't produce Standards, it makes Recommendations. That's
- The Patent Policy doesn't change the W3C's policy; it
establishes the W3C's patent policy. Before this there
was no documented patent policy, except for some brief
disclosure requirements in the Process document.
- The default mode of operation in Working Groups in the proposed
policy is not RAND; it's determined on a case-by-case
basis, and if it is RAND, there must be a good reason for it.
- Ultimately, the operating mode of each Activity and Working Group is
up to the W3C Advisory Committee, when the groups are chartered. The AC
is made up of one representative for each company (disclaimer: I'm an AC
rep, but only writing this on behalf of myself). Large companies get one
vote. Small companies get one vote. There
are over 400 companies, most of them small.
- Even more ultimately, Tim and the Team write the charters. They more
than anyone else have the interest of the Web at heart.
...if the W3C began introducing non-free standards. I can't see why
anyone other than the patent-holder would adopt them.
There's certainly a critical mass of free-software developers out there
who could design and implement an alternative. PNG and Ogg Vorbis prove
that no matter how complex the technology, you don't need patents to
encourage the innovation of something that is wanted badly enough.
The W3C would eventually become irrelevant if their standards, however
well-thought-out, fail at the first test. i.e. "Can I use it?"
GNU standarts.com?, posted 1 Oct 2001 at 14:49 UTC by Malx »
How about creating independent standarts gruop?
Wich whould support other standarts if they are free or develop it's
own, if not.
Notes, posted 2 Oct 2001 at 07:13 UTC by lilo »
It does appear that the process of public comment broke down on this
one, for whatever reason. Maybe nobody expected to see this important
an issue quietly working its way through the W3C. The time breakdown of
comments is interesting.
The first five comments on the mailing list,
covering the span of most of one month, were spam directed at the
mailing list. Of the next two comments, one seems to be mostly in the
nature of proofreading. The other is a favorable comment to the effect
new policy will make it more clear when patent-encumbered
adopted. This takes us up through September 27. Two comments on
the 28th, one of whom seems to have been from the person who pointed the
problem out to the community that day. 20 comments on the 29th. The
bulk of the month's 755 comments appeared on the 30th.
It does appear obvious that nobody on the committee has thought much
about the downside of at all accepting patent-encumbered
recommendations. It also seems obvious that W3C is not used to getting
this kind of public outcry. Their communications director seems to
indicate that they didn't get useful commentary; if it were me, I think
I'd be willing to accept that 7 or 800 emphatic "No!" votes were
probably an indication that people feel strongly about the issue.
Let's hope they're willing to accept and work with what is clearly an
unexpected form of commentary.
It looks like the W3C has responded to the
public feedback on this, and has decided to extend the deadline for
comments until October 11, in preparation for their meeting on the
subject on October 15. So, if you've got something to say on the matter,
now is the time to do it. All comments are archived and publically
This proposal has been available for review and comment, on the same
page as the other W3C working drafts, for a month and a half. Why is
everyone only throwing a fit now? The only trigger I can see is a post
on Slashdot, which means the majority of those 1,000 new comments are
probably people who have no clue what's going on, but do whatever
Slashdot tells them. Looking some of the actual
comments (the linked one is someone claiming that the W3C is going
to start patenting things, which is not the case at all), I have to
conclude that the majority of posters really don't have a clue what's
going on, and are probably just causing the W3C (who are a bunch of nice
people that do a shitload of work to make the web a better place) a
: I bet you had to look really hard to find that
incompetent comment. I've been reading the archives, and most of the
comments I've seen are cogent and eloquent.
mnot: You say
"Tim and the Team write the charters" as evidence that the
W3C's noble intent. Let's not forget that Tim Berners-Lee is one of the
founders of Curl Corporation, a
pusher of some sort of proprietary web technology.
It's good that you and robla point out that this
proposal establishes a policy where none existed before. In this sense,
it's definitely a good thing that the W3C is doing -- they just
need to come to the right conclusion, and not adopt any standards which
preclude free software implementations. From what I've read, many of
the comments I've read in the archive get this right ... perhaps your
comments here helped bring that about. Thanks.
I think the avalanche of late comments points to one thing: people
trusted the W3C, and thus hadn't kept a close eye on them.
Following standards is a lot of work, so usually only those who are
closely involved with a particular technology keep up. That's why the
standards review procedure didn't attract too much attention.
Fortunately, someone noticed this proposal and its implications before
the comment period expired. The W3C is on the verge of becoming an
untrustworthy organization, but there's still a chance to try to help
them put this in perspective.
I know I will be sending my comments in sometime before the 11th ... I
need to find the time to read through all the documents and come up with
a comment that is close to being as eloquent as many of those I've read.
Fortunately, someone noticed this proposal and its implications
before the comment period expired. The W3C is on the verge of becoming
an untrustworthy organization, but there's still a chance to try to help
them put this in perspective.
This is the kind of W3C-demonizing I can't stand. Why is the W3C on the
verge of becoming an untrustworthy organization? They had it on their
site for a month and a half. It's not their fault that the
blind masses don't bother to read for themselves, and only found out a
day before. This doesn't make the W3C untrusthworthy. It means the
people who should care about tracking stuff like this (if they really do
care that much) are just lazy or uninformed.
You're right, the avalanche of comments did point to one thing - that no
matter how much people bitch and moan about wanting free standards on
news or discussion sites, most of them never take the initiative.
The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
It wasn't Slashdot or Linux Today which really publicized
this, it was Adam Warner who posted the first generally available
analysis I've seen. That found its way through a lot of
mailing list, and then relatively late in the game, to those
But it is curious that nobody else really picked up on
this until it was pretty late. A few reasons come to mind.
- First, the general way
that W3C generates recommendations involves over a year
elapsing IN PUBLIC SIGHT, so there's usually no need
to rush a review cycle. It's quite unusual to see any
document get ramrodded through this quickly.
the information there really soft-pedaled the impact on
free software. It's not like they said in bold letters
we want to adopt a closed systems model.
- Third, 9/11/2001 has been taking over a lot of mind share,
and not just the grey cells that had been preoccupied with the
Gary Condit media sharkfest. And that was just when those
other cells started to really get
back from August vacation, too.
W3C trustworthiness ... people In The Know have been
raising issues there for a while now. There's a lot of
stuff going on behind that code of omerta protecting
members from public view, and some of it certainly has
raised red flags in the past. What's new is that more
people outside W3C are now able to see how much its
decision process can be skewed against the Public Interest
and in favor of larger vendors.
I think a patent policy is needed, but it shouldn't
be rushed and it should have a strong bias towards
"Zero Cost Licensing". (I get confused by their so-called
"Royalty Free Licensing", which I've always seen to mean
huge up-front fees, in contrast to per-unity royalties.)
And it shouldn't have so many dubious details and
huge loopholes as this current draft.
Demonizing?, posted 3 Oct 2001 at 18:24 UTC by forrest »
, what we have here is our own failure to communicate.
When I said that the W3C risks becoming untrustworthy, I meant
that this organization which has been a powerful advocate of open
standards would, if the draft proposal passes unmodified, no longer be
that. They could no longer be trusted to influence companies
to adopt data formats that are open and can be manipulated with free tools.
I finally figured out from your comment that you believe that I must be
implying that the review process is some sort of conspiracy to
avoid public input. That's not what I meant at all. The communication
process didn't work well, but that's not the W3C's fault, and I never
meant to imply that it was.
Communication is difficult. That's just a fact of life.
Some thoughts, posted 4 Oct 2001 at 07:44 UTC by raph »
1. While the aims of the W3C are reasonably noble, most of the people
actually on the committees are representatives from proprietary software
companies. Thus, a patent policy such as this comes as no surprise.
2. "Open standards" has never meant freely implementable. There are lots
and lots of open standards that require patents. Freely implementable
standards are far better, of course, but the world is not set up to pay
people (such as xiphmont) who put time and effort into them.
3. The IETF has for a while had a patent policy not unlike the one being
considered here. However, the IETF, having been burned several times,
now has a strong preference for unencumbered technology when it is a
4. Some of the patents under discussion are the bottom of the patent
scum-barrel. A particularly egregious example is Apple's patent on
classical alpha composition. Sickening, isn't
I'm mostly just glad this issue is getting attention. It's important to
choose patent-free technology, but most people have no idea.