FOSS Calls for OASIS Patent Boycott

Lawrence Rosen pens an open letter on behalf of the open source community against the OASIS patent policy.
Posted February 22, 2005

Jim Wagner

A group of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) advocates is calling for a boycott of technology using discriminatory patent terms at the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), according to an open letter Tuesday.

In his letter, Lawrence Rosen, who stepped down from his role as general counsel and secretary of the Open Source Initiative earlier this month, and 28 others, called upon the tech community to demand OASIS revise its policy on the reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) patent license terms found in its industry-standard technology.

OASIS's RAND patent policy allows its owners to charge a fee for the use of the patented technology within an OASIS-approved standard, critics charge.

The open letter comes two weeks after OASIS approved the addition of two royalty-free terms to its intellectual property rights (IPR) policy -- Royalty Free (RF) on RAND Terms and RF on Limited Terms.

The open letter states, however, that while OASIS has royalty-free provisions, "it is a secondary option, which will have little effect if a few OASIS members with patents can ensure it is not used. The OASIS patent policy will encourage large patent holders to negotiate private arrangements among themselves, locking out all free software and open source developers."

OASIS is a consortium with more than 600 organizations listed as members, including IBM , Oracle , HP , Microsoft and Dell .

Officials at OASIS released a statement in response to the open letter, saying they were disappointed it was necessary for Rosen and the others to issue a press statement before bringing their concerns to the organization, which they say operates under an open process and allows members and non-members alike to provide input.

Of the 101 specifications going through the standards process today, OASIS officials said, more than 90 percent can be deployed royalty-free.

"In today's reality, no standards organization can ensure that its work is or will remain completely free of patent claims," the OASIS statement said. "There is always a risk that someone in the world holds a patent that can be claimed as essential for implementation in software on any specific standards project -- open source or not. The most any standards organization can do is provide clear, equitable regulations to govern the behavior of those who participate in its work and publicly document the licensing commitment of all participants."

Bruce Perens, one of the signatories and a scientist at George Washington University, said it doesn't make sense to restrict one of the largest blocs of Web services users.

"If you look at Web services today, which is OASIS' standards domain, the main provider of Web services is open source software," he said. "The major Web server is ours -- Apache is 68.8 percent of the market now -- [and] the Linux operating system is behind many Web-facing systems today and a lot of the infrastructure of a Web services business -- things like [the application server] Zope, etc. -- is built upon open source software."

FOSS advocates say the adoption of Web standards with RAND licensing effectively prohibits them from using it in their software and has no place in the standards process. Danese Cooper, Sun's chief open source evangelist for OpenSolaris and one of the people listed as signing the open letter, said RAND licensing is basically a license to print money.

"The fundamental problem is that the really large [intellectual property] holders feel that RAND is a business opportunity for them and so they fight tooth-and-nail every chance they get to hold onto that RAND position," she said.

The letter charges that some IP holders moved their RAND licensing efforts to OASIS after getting trumped at the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), another standards body. In 2002, the organization tabled a proposal that would have allowed companies to charge royalty fees for its patents in W3C-approved standards.

The end result, if OASIS continues to keep any sort of RAND policy in place, Perens said, is that a lot of the Web services standards work would be done elsewhere and away from IP holders like Microsoft.

"We are the major software provider for that industry and if Microsoft wants to go there and do product differentiation they can do so -- they seem to have moved some of their standards efforts there after W3C moved to royalty-free -- but I think it would be more honest for Microsoft to promote these things as Microsoft-only products rather than standards at all."

The signatories of the statement are:

  • Lawrence Rosen
  • Bruce Perens
  • Richard Stallman
  • Lawrence Lessig
  • Eben Moglen
  • Marten Mickos
  • John Weathersby
  • John Terpstra
  • Tim O'Reilly
  • Tony Stanco
  • Don Marti
  • Michael Tiemann
  • Andrew Aitken
  • Karen Copenhaver
  • Doug Levin
  • Dan Ravicher
  • Larry Augustin
  • Mitchell Kapor
  • Russell Nelson
  • Guido van Rossum
  • Daniel Quinlan
  • Murugan Pal
  • Stuart Cohen
  • Danese Cooper
  • Eric Raymond
  • Mark Webbink
  • Ken Coar
  • Doc Searls
  • Brian Behlendorf

0 Comments (click to add your comment)
Comment and Contribute


(Maximum characters: 1200). You have characters left.