Industry standards at issue

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2005-04-22 Print this article Print

Rosen then pointed to the example of the open-source communitys relationship with industry standards bodies such as the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and OASIS (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured information Standards) and the petition several open-source leaders sent to OASIS objecting to the organizations latest intellectual property policy. Click here to read more about leaders demanding OASIS change its policy.
"What we did with the W3C and are doing with OASIS is were saying, If you want to work together on software standards, then you need to make those standards available to the public," Rosen said.
At issue was the OASIS policy that allowed for companies to hold RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory) patent licenses on technology submitted to the standards body. The group protested this and demanded that all standards be royalty-free. OASIS did not change its policy, which actually encourages royalty free standards, and it went into effect last week. However, Rosen noted that IBM, a leading OASIS contributor, recently came out with a statement saying it was going to make its OASIS-related patents royalty-free. "Well, that shows that patents are not detrimental," CompTIAs Wyne said. "IBM had a smart business reason to make that change." Rosen replied: "I respectfully disagree." In an interview after the panel, Rosen told eWEEK: "Despite the fact that there remains an OASIS policy does not satisfy the open source community; we still won—because none of the major companies, particularly IBM, will be doing any RAND patents in OASIS. Even though the standards folks insist on keeping RAND in their policy, the companies wont do RAND, and if they do well be right back on their ass." Moreover, it is the bigger companies that can afford to fight legal battles regarding intellectual property, Rosen said. "Smaller companies cant afford the fight. These rules are no help to Linus Torvalds; this is no help to the Apache Foundation or the smaller companies who cant afford to fight." Yet, earlier this week at the Linux on Wall Street conference in New York, Karen Copenhaver, executive vice president and general counsel at Black Duck Software Inc., raised the issue of the open-source community raising up to jointly defend itself legally. "Most companies had never given a software indemnity before, and the reason why they shouldnt for open source is that it was built in the community, and I believe the community needs to defend it," Copenhaver said. "Everybody giving indemnities is not really helpful—what would be helpful is if we could jointly defend. The first time a patent claim is raised, the entire community needs to defend." Indeed, Copenhaver said she sees change coming in this area. "Were going to see a lot of change in patents; a lot of community involvement. And youre going to find its easier to defend a patent claim in open source than in the proprietary world." In addition, Copenhaver said, "The interesting intersection is what we used to be concerned about with antitrust law is now where we are with IP." She added that antitrust suits "are the most inefficient way to deal with a problem." Meanwhile, at the ACT conference, Colarulli said he believes the USPTO (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) "has not been doing a wonderful job for technology" and "the quality coming out of there has been suspect." Maskus agreed, saying part of the problem is that there is "an increasing tendency at the USPTO to grant patents for really small pieces of innovation. And Im surprised the U.S. sticks to a one-size-fits-all approach." Meanwhile, also at the Linux on Wall Street conference earlier this week, Douglas Heintzman, Director of Technical Strategy, Software Group, IBM Corp., said that even as IBM is one of the largest holders of intellectual property in the world, "We believe the patent system is in need of reparation, and we need to find the right balance. The issue of license proliferation is of course a challenge, and I do think we need to consolidate some of these things." Read more here about open-source licensing reform. However, Rosen humored the ACT panel and said, regarding any patent reform, "dont let patent attorneys redesign the law. They screwed it up, and they shouldnt be allowed to screw it up more." More seriously, however, he said, "The real challenge is if were going to revise the law, we need to ask do they [revisions] do good or do they do harm."

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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