OASIS: New IP Policy Makes Room for Open Source

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-06-16 Print this article Print

In a nod to the open-source community, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, revises its intellectual property policy to include a non-assertion mode, which means standards contributors must forgo royalty claims or license rights.

In a nod to the open-source community, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards has revised its intellectual property policy to include a non-assertion mode, which means standards contributors must forgo royalty claims or license rights.

Indeed, the board of directors of OASIS has unanimously approved a revision to its Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy, OASIS officials said.

This revision now offers an added option for new technical committees to work under: a Non-Assertion Covenant mode. Non-assertion covenants ensure that organizations or individuals who participate in writing a standard cannot demand royalty or exercise license rights against users or implementers of such approved standards, OASIS said. Qualifying participants or contributors automatically make Non-Assertion Covenants when they work in an OASIS Technical Committee that operates under this new IPR mode.

In an interview with eWEEK, Laurent Liscia, executive director of OASIS, said the new policy helps the standards body live up to its tag line of being an "open standards consortium." Liscia said, "We needed the non-assertion mode to catch up to our motto."

Carol Geyer, director of communications at OASIS, said, "We think this is a very big deal. Non-assertion is a big departure from RAND [Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory]; the open-source community in particular has been calling for non-assertion, but big companies are warming to it too, since it greatly simplifies the legal process of contributing to standards development."

Moreover, Geyer said that since 2005, OASIS has required members to make their participation and contributions available on specific licensing terms. Each OASIS technical committee chooses at inception the IPR mode that best meets its needs, OASIS officials said. The new Non-Assertion mode joins three existing options for OASIS committees: Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND); Royalty-Free on RAND Terms; and Royalty-Free on Limited Terms, OASIS said. The vast majority of OASIS committees operate under a Royalty-Free mode. The requirements of each IPR mode are defined in detail in the OASIS IPR Policy.

Liscia said up to 98 percent of OASIS technical committees already operate as royalty-free standards efforts.

He also noted that a little more than a month into his tenure as executive director of OASIS, the board began discussing ways to interact more with the open-source community.

"We wanted to catch up with the times," Liscia said. "The open-source movement had to have an impact on how we do business."

Although the OASIS royalty-free policy means "the owner of the IP says you can use it as you will and I'm granting you the right to, the non-assert new mode is more like GPL or GNU," Liscia told eWEEK. "What you assert from the get-go is you're not asserting anything. And that's pretty radical. The burden is reduced because vendors are saying, 'Even if we do have a patent, we're not going to assert it.' Essentially, you are giving away the house, so you better cross your T's before you do that. We're in open-source territory."

The Non-Assertion mode is welcomed by many individuals and organizations that recognize it as a way of reducing the burden of conducting extensive and expensive patent inventory searches as well as a needed relief from patent fear and uncertainty to implementers, OASIS said.

"The Non-Assertion mode offers a great alternative for developers, who see it as a way to simplify their internal approval processes, and for users who seek to eliminate the task of obtaining multiple permissions when implementing OASIS standards," said Eduardo Gutentag of Sun Microsystems, chair of the OASIS board of directors, in a statement. "The change comes in response to feedback we received from our members and is in keeping with the global user community's increasing demand for more freely available and open solutions."

OASIS technical committees that form on or after Aug. 4, 2009, will have the option to choose the Non-Assertion mode; the change does not affect any of the existing committees currently operating under one of the other IPR modes.

Liscia said he believes the Non-Assertion mode will quickly become a preferred method of standardizing new technology. "My prediction is this is going to be a popular mode."

Liscia also said he believes software companies will be more likely to want to pursue standards via the Non-Assertion mode. But hardware companies, particularly those creating technology for the telecommunications and utilities industries, "will be more reluctant because they are not used to giving that kind of IP away," he said. 

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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