While I suspect that everyone's heard of this week's Eldred vs. Ashcroft decision, there are also some interesting developments on the patent front, including trouble in Web Services and a pointed comment from Microsoft on the W3C's latest Patent Policy draft.
The Web Services discussion mostly sounds like a continuing battle among vendors, but that battle's side effects could have substantial impact. The Web Services Interoperability Organization is not precisely a technology development group, but they have released at least one document with a rather daunting NOTICE.
Microsoft's "views on the latest proposal for a W3C
patent policy as described in the last call document" are much more directly worrying. The entire piece is worth a read, perhaps even several readings. Perhaps its most relevant bit for this forum is its reminder that open source developers are largely not W3C members:
"While the open source software community, like the commercial software community, has and continues to contribute to the development of the Web, in part, by creating and supporting Web standards, these communities do have different relationships with the W3C. As you consider whether or not a RF-only policy is the right patent policy for the W3C we hope you will not only think about the pros and cons of such a policy but why some parties are issuing a call to arms to individuals who may have little engagement with the W3C other than to comment on this patent policy."
In particular, Microsoft appears suspicious about the participation of representatives from the Open Source and Free Software communities:
the PPWG did not have a RF-only policy until the voices of these Open
Source and Free Software experts were heard, but their primary interest
in a RF-only policy does not lie with the W3C remaining a good forum for
developing web standards."
Microsoft itself, of course, has no significant interest in making money from royalties on W3C specifications:
ability to charge royalties for implementations of key W3C standards has
not been and is not a significant consideration for us in the debate
over whether or not the W3C should have a RF-only policy. We are
concerned that that adoption of the current RF-only policy will severely
limit the effectiveness of the W3C in continuing to be a good forum to
develop web-based standards that will achieve widespread adoption in
terms of cost and time."
Developers should pause and take notice that the current Royalty-Free Patent Policy is just a Working Draft.
While the open source software community, like the commercial software community, has and continues to contribute to the development of the Web, in part, by creating and supporting Web standards, these communities do have different relationships with the W3C. As you consider whether or not a RF-only policy is the right patent policy for the W3C we hope you will not only think about the pros and cons of such a policy but why some parties are issuing a call to arms to individuals who may have little engagement with the W3C other than to comment on this patent policy.
The problem here is that the decisions of the W3C affect a much wider group than merely the people who actively engage in it. In particular, many Open Source developers do not have the time or inclination to engage a standards body. It entails many hours spent doing something other than developing software. This, in fact, is the reason people like Bruce Perens and Eben Moglen behave the way they do. They know they are representing a very large number of people who would not ordinarily be represented.
I would go so far as to say that the activities of these legions of under-represented people have done more to advance and cement web standards than the activity of all of the rest of the W3Cs members combined. What the write-in campaigns that Microsoft complains about really are is all the people who actually make the web work adding in their voice to the normally corp heavy W3C.
We urge the W3C and the Advisory Committee to evaluate the precedent setting RF-only nature of the proposed patent policy in the context of whether or not it will enable the W3C to remain a good forum for developing web standards. If RF only, without reasonable exceptions is adopted and leads to key consumers of web-based standards, such as consumer electronics and telecommunications members, going elsewhere, will the core web standards continue to be developed at the W3C? Will those web standards avoid the patents of those enterprises no longer participating in the W3C process? Will those standards be used as the foundation for other standards? Given these concerns and questions the W3C should be cautious about adopting this RF-only policy backed by some vocal parties whose primary interests are unrelated to the W3C's ability to continue to develop widely adopted web standards.
If they want to go off in their own little world and develop a technology nobody wants and uses because it isn't a part of web standards as a whole, and is wrapped up in so many ridiculous patents that it will only be a single vendor implementation anyway, do we care? The various misguided attempts by the telecom industry to make a web it could control have largely failed. I don't think they'll do much better on their own. It's time for them to swallow their desire to make the web a corp playground and participate as equals with the actual human beings here.
Though, the alternative licensing idea is interesting. The way Microsoft words it, it would just be an opportunity for the corp-heavy W3C to randomly spring stupid things on the whole community. I may be willing to pay some corporation a lump some for a patent that is then guaranteed to be royalty-free from then on. But no patent that has any kind of continuing royalty charge or restriction-of-use clause in its licensing is acceptable to me.