February 22, 2005 10:47 AM PST

OASIS patent policy sparks boycott

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A who's who of the open-source and free-software movements on Tuesday took aim at a leading Web services standards group, escalating pressure for mandatory royalty-free licensing policies with calls for a boycott of its specifications.

Open-source and free-software advocates including Mitchell Kapor, Lawrence Lessig, Tim O'Reilly, Bruce Perens, Eric Raymond, Lawrence Rosen, Doc Searls and Richard Stallman signed an e-mail urging the community not to implement certain specifications sent out by OASIS (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards). OASIS this month revised its patent policy in a way it claimed offers better options for open-source software development.

"We ask you to stand with us in opposition to the OASIS patent policy," states the e-mail, which was sent Tuesday morning. "Do not implement OASIS standards that aren't open. Demand that OASIS revise its policies. If you are an OASIS member, do not participate in any working group that allows encumbered standards that cannot be implemented in open-source and free software."

In an interview, one signatory said the campaign would not target individual specifications, but the organization as a whole.

"We want organizations like OASIS to develop policies so any group that wants to use an industry standard can know in advance whether or not someone's going to come along and reach into their pocketbook," said Rosen, a lawyer with Rosenlaw & Einschlag and author of "Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law."

OASIS defended its revised policy and launched a counterattack against the e-mail campaign.

"This policy from OASIS is as strong as the W3C policy in terms of specifying work to be royalty-free," said OASIS CEO Patrick Gannon in an interview. "Our policy states that standards may incorporate work that is patented, but that they have to disclose it. And in almost all cases, that results in a royalty-free license for that work."

OASIS revised its policy to specify three modes for standards work: RAND, or reasonable and nondiscriminatory licensing; RF, or royalty-free, on RAND terms; or RF on limited terms.

Gannon claimed that people who had signed the e-mail hadn't read the policy.

"Does it represent an accurate description of our policy? Absolutely not," Gannon said. "Have these people read the policy? Or are they just reacting to someone's claim? Had any of these people come to us, we would have been more than happy to open a dialogue. This isn't the best way to open a dialogue between communities, through the press."

Gannon said that even without the new policy, OASIS standards with royalties attached to them are comparatively few.

Out of 20 formalized OASIS standards, Gannon said he was not aware of any that required a royalty to implement them. Fewer than a half dozen of the 101 specifications still working their way though committee had royalties, he said.

On the firing line
The call for an OASIS boycott is the latest in a series of skirmishes between industrial interests that claim intellectual property rights and open-source and free-software advocates.

The most significant conflict to date launched in 2001 after the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) floated a proposal. The plan would have made the W3C's rules friendlier to member organizations that wanted to introduce patented technologies into standards.

The resulting row led the W3C into a highly public re-examination of its commitment to royalty-free standards. In 2003,

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Is it a standards body?
The question is "Do they want to be a standards body?"

If they are merely an industry association, then it's quite reasonable for them to publish any specifications that they choose. Including patented ones.

If they want to be a standards body, then they need to take care that they standards they publish are the appropriate and correct ways to do things.

Patented things are, by their natrue, inappropriate in many circumstances unless they have been, e.g., dedicated to the public. But no group that issues "standards" that contains patents deserves to be considered as a standards body. At best they could be a reputable industry association. And they could publish widely useful specifications. But that's the most that they could be.

If they want to be a standards body, then they must publish standards, and calling a frog a table doesn't make it one.
Posted by aLinuxUser (4 comments )
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dedicated to the public
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Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
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Royalties in ten percent NOW.... but in the future....
to Open Source, royalties are akin to sin which has been likened to yeast, it only takes a tiny bit to permeate throughout the whole loaf. and with ten percent of the policies being distasteful they will, in the future, be weighted by how often each is actually used. If the entire industry adopted the stated set of standards, but only implemented a subset of that so-called 10% then it becomes a 100% royalty implemented system. no actual difference from the current system.

0% royalty is the only option for a truly Open Source world. There is plenty of money to be made by selling support to truly innovative ideas, and the business world goes with the experts. Who is more qualified to give support for an item that its innovator? so Who will the businessman, looking for best qualified support team, choose?
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
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