As Web services standards evolve, those of us involved in their development and adoption are at a crossroads. We strive for open standards, unencumbered by patents and intellectual property rights. We want to compete not in the development of the standards but in how we use them in our products.
Our model for the successful use of standards is the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium, was recently recognized with The Finnish Technology Award Foundations Millennium Technology Prize and a British knighthood for inventing the Web. Prominent recognition was given to his choice not to claim patents on his invention. His decision freed everyone to use Web standards easily and cheaply over the Internet to share information, educate, communicate and conduct commerce.
Under Sir Tims leadership, the W3C remains responsible for ensuring the Webs future. The W3C believes that standards should remain as free of patent and IP restrictions as possible and restricts adoption of specifications encumbered by patents.
At the advent of Web services, Iona and other vendors submitted the SOAP and WSDL specifications to the W3C, hoping to make them as open and widely adopted as the Web. We believed the W3C was the natural body to lead Web services and produce the specifications that would drive the adoption of this significant new technology.
Unfortunately, after the initial broad support and the success of SOAP and WSDL, the Web services standardization effort started to split. The W3C enacted a stricter IP policy, and many companies believed that the new policy did not sufficiently protect their contributions.
Perhaps because of this disagreement, no single standards body has been able to duplicate for Web services what the W3C did for the Web. Various organizations each control significant Web services standards (for example, OASIS, W3C, WS-I, OMG), and new specifications continue to be created by private consortia. But challenging IP issues remain. They range from public workshops, at which participants must sign over the IP rights of their contributions to the sponsoring companies, to specifications with licensing terms that are often unclear or undisclosed. I cant see any company being willing to contribute to a standard when theres a real prospect that theyd then owe license fees for its use.
Ideally, the industry should unconditionally commit to adopting standards unencumbered by IP rights and agree to vie for the best implementation of a specification, instead of worrying about license fees. However, since a large portion of the industry continues to be concerned about licensing, we need the W3C to find a compromise position, doing for Web services what it did for the Web, perhaps recognizing that an entirely patent-free approach isnt always going to work.
Eric Newcomer is chief technology officer of Iona Technologies plc. Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.