W3C to reconsider patents in standards

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-10-11

Stung by a flood of criticism, a key Web standards group next week will consider significant changes to its proposal to establish a formal process for accepting patented, royalty fee-generating technologies as official Internet standards.

Among other changes to its original proposal, the World Wide Web Consortiums (W3C) patent policy working group will consider granting exemptions to open source developers so that they could avoid paying royalty fees on patented technologies accepted as W3C standards, said Daniel Weitzner, the working groups chairman, in Cambridge, Mass.

The open source exemption was just one idea generated over 2,000 public comments--most of them negative--received in late September by the working group. The volume of criticism prompted the working group to extend the public comment period--originally due to expire Sept. 30--to Oct. 11.

Most of the criticism centered on the so-called Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) licensing mode portion of the proposed policy which, for the first time, would create a formal way for patented technologies to be accepted as W3C standards. The RAND policy would also require that any fees be reasonable and assessed equally to all users.

Most critics of the RAND policy say it would threaten the openness and interoperability of the Web by introducing proprietary technologies. Currently, said Weitzner, the W3C operates under what he called a de facto royalty free policy.

Typical of RAND critics is Eric Raymond, president of the OSI (Open Source Initiative) Board of Directors whose comments last week included the statement: "We stand with those who see the RAND propsal as an invasive and corrupting attempt to hijack the standards process, to tilt the Webs relatively level playing field in favor of players with legions of lawyers and lots of money."

Besides considering the open source exemption idea, Weitzner said, the working group this week will also consider whether to retain the RAND clause.

"It will definitely be discussed," said Weitzner. "It will have to be discussed."

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