Web Services Group Under Fire For New Patent Policy

Jeff Berg
BILLERICA, Mass. — A heated war is being waged through email and in the press between a group responsible for standards-setting in SGML and XML web services and a coalition of open-source supporters who feel the organization’s new intellectual property policy is meant to destroy the free software and open-source community.

The battle centers around a new set of policies implemented by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standard that allow for three different types of licensing schemes for intellectual property used in standards, including one that allows for “reasonable and non-discriminatory” patent-license requirements.

A coalition of software experts and open-source attorneys, including free society advocate Lawrence Lessig and O’Reilly Media founder Tim O’Reilly, has sprung up in opposition to the new policy, circulating an urge to boycott OASIS standards across the Internet.

“OASIS […] has adopted a patent policy that threatens to undermine our development and licensing model,” wrote the coalition in an email petition circulated throughout the open-source community. “We ask you to stand with us in opposition to the OASIS patent policy. Do not implement OASIS standards that aren’t open. Demand that OASIS revise its policies.”

The new policy institutes a three-tiered licensing scheme, featuring a RAND level that allows for negotiation between the patent holder and the implementer seeking a license including specific fees or royalties that might need to be paid; a Royalty-Free on RAND Terms method that operates similarly to the first mode, but does not allow for fees or royalties; and a Royalty-Free on Limited Terms method that allows for no negotiation whatsoever and must be granted upon request.

“While the policy includes a provision for royalty-free standards, it is a secondary option, which will have little effect if a few OASIS members with patents can ensure that it is not used,” said the coalition. “Without consulting the free software and open-source community, they have produced a patent policy designed so that we cannot live with it.”

Opponents to the coalition’s efforts have fired back at the group, claiming that the new policy is realistic and that the opposition had not properly read the policy.

“The diversity of information technology systems built today is increasing significantly,” said Gartner Research Director Ray Valdes. “This is not only with regard to their scope, complexity and interoperability, but also in the way these systems are built and in the types of organizations that build them. These changes require standards organizations to articulate a broader set of approaches to intellectual property issues than has been the case in the past.”

OASIS CEO Patrick Gannon expressed similar sentiments in a ZDNet interview, explaining that the coalitions framing of the policy was incorrect.

“Does it represent an accurate description of our policy?” asked Gannon. “Absolutely not. Have these people read the policy? Or are they just reacting to someone’s claim?”

Gannon pointed out that none of the current OASIS standards, which include ebXML, SPML, DSML and WS-Security, among others, require any type of royalty, and that less than six of the 101 specifications currently in committee required anything similar.

“Had any of these people come to us, we would have been more than happy to open a dialogue,” Gannon said. “This isn’t the best way to open a dialogue between communities, through the press.”