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A letter to the W3C (was: Re: Please Help Pass W3C Patent Policy)


On Mon, Dec 30, 2002 at 06:44:08PM -0800, Bruce Perens wrote:

> Please write to <www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org> and tell them
> something like this (please elaborate - everyone discounts
> rubber-stamp comments):
> 	To: www-patentpolicy-comment@w3.org
> 	Subject: Approve of draft policy - disapprove of software patenting.
> 	I request that W3C approve the draft patent policy, because it's a
> 	compromise that protects the right of Open Source / Free Software
> 	programmers to implement W3C standards.
> 	I object to software patents, and support efforts to eliminate them
> 	at the legislative level.

Below you'll find the letter I sent, anybody, feel free to reuse bits
and pieces as necessary.

And thanks,


for the good work, even though it feels somewhat as a phyrric victory.


Dear sir, madam,

This is to inform you that as an independent software developer and
computer services provider, I reluctantly support the W3C draft policy
regarding patents in W3C standards, because it preserves some of the
ability of developers of Free Software / Open Source software to
implement W3C standards.

However, I strongly persist that the right to implement internet
standards should never become a limited, tradeable right, affordable
only to corporations whose business model works by restricting the use
on their work and collecting a fee for every distributed copy of their
implementations, so that per-copy patent royalties can be paid.

The Free Software (free as in speech; also sometimes referred to as Open
Source, which is similar) companies such as RedHat and SuSE have proven
that viable commercial business models exist for software development
that do not rely on collecting per-copy revenues or on otherwise
forcibly restricting the use or distribution of their products.

Those models, built on providing services and support using jointly
produced tools, allows people and small companies that do not have the
infrastructure or wish to restrict the use or distribution of their
work to provide the market with useful software, making a good living
in the process.

Programming, more than any other area of engineering, is a discipline
in which individual people and groups that are not necessarily organised
around shareholder-driven enterprise, can be extremely fruitful, to the
benefit of the computing public at large.

Especially in the world of internet software, where all software that
runs the infrastructure ultimately serves to allow as many people as
possible to share the information they wish to share -- a concept that
often conflicts with the desire to control and to raise toll booths, as
necessarily present in shareholder-driven organisations -- does Free
Software form a large part of the few viable, truly interoperable
products that build this infrastructure.

For some reason, commercial products seem to be only temporarily
successful in the internet arena, where the most interoperable and the
most versatile software is preferred. Only a monopoly that can use its
strength in other markets to leverage less interoperable and less
flexible internet software, can conquer any significant piece of this
market with proprietary, single source, controlled use software.

How many proprietary webservers have any market share, other than
Microsoft IIS? How many proprietary DNS implementations? How many
successful proprietary internet mail servers? 

And how many standards for transmitting information that are patent-
encumbered at the software level actually receive any use? ASCII, HTML
and HTTP would have been spectacular failures if the ecosystem of
software components that implement these standards would have been
limited in development due to patents held by commercial entities,
necessarily driven by short term monetary interests, as every company
must ultimately work in the interests of its shareholders.

I strongly object to any legal instrument wielded by groups
that are ultimately driven only to achieve the highest possible return
on investment to restrict the availability of human knowledge and the
freedom to share and work in common interests, except where it brings
more knowledge and more freedom to share. 

Copyright laws may have been such an exception, where some restriction
ultimately produces more -- at least before the DMCA and before the
extension of its time period -- and perhaps the same can be said for
patents. However, patents on internet software can not be seen, not by
any stretch of the imagination, as having been net-productive for the
internet industry or the public.

It is therefore a big mistake in my opinion, for a standards body that
works in the collective interest of the internet community and
everything that it produces, commercially and non-commercially, to
propagate patent-encumbered standards, regardless of license conditions. 

The most flourishing segment of internet software is produced by groups
and individuals that cannot and do not want to control the use or
distribution of their works, and are therefore unable to pay any sort of
patent royalties. Allowing royalties to be demanded for copies of
implementations of internet standards will inevitably limit the growth
of the internet to what companies with commercial interests can produce.

Nobody wants to go back from the World Wide Web to CompuServe, except
CompuServe. In whose interest do you work?

Kind regards,

Emile van Bergen.

E-Advies / Emile van Bergen   |   emile@e-advies.info
tel. +31 (0)70 3906153        |   http://www.e-advies.info

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