Warming up to open source

Web services standards group OASIS offers trio of patent policy options, but open-source purists say it's still too patent-friendly.

An influential Web services standards group revised its patent policy to accommodate but not require royalty-free licenses, signaling incremental gains for open-source developers.

OASIS (the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) on Monday released its updated intellectual property policy, which will take effect April 15.

In a statement, OASIS said it made the revision "to enhance support for open standards development."


What's new:
OASIS has revised its patent policy to accommodate but not require royalty-free licenses, meaning a friendlier environment for open-source developers.

Bottom line:
Open-source purists say the revision only goes so far and still gives working groups the option of shutting open source out of a standard.

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That, OASIS members said, meant a friendlier environment for open-source developers, whose licenses prevent them from using technologies that have royalties attached.

But the overture to open-source developers only goes so far, making royalty-free (RF) licensing of patents in standards an option next to the existing status quo, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) licensing of those patents.

"OASIS isn't an open-source organization," said Jim Hughes, Hewlett-Packard's software standards chief and chairman of the OASIS board of directors. "We are a standards organization. We could have made the decision to be royalty-free, but we decided not to do that. We historically have been centered on the RAND option. The new policy is a better option for our members so that they have choices."

Since the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) went through a highly public battle that ended in a virtual patent ban, other standards organizations have felt the heat to reconsider the use of royalty-encumbered technologies in their protocols.

The Internet Engineering Task Force in 2003 beat back an effort to sideline patented technologies in its publications.

Now OASIS has enumerated three modes its working groups can work under: RAND, RF on RAND Terms, or RF on Limited Terms.

The policy met with a lukewarm response from open-source advocates.

"I'm pleased that royalty-free is at least an option, but would be more comfortable if it was the default," said Bruce Perens, a prominent open-source advocate. The new policy "still gives working groups the option of shutting open source out of a standard."

But at least one OASIS member who called himself an advocate of royalty-free standards hailed the policy as a step forward.

"This is a very contentious issue, and OASIS needed to move in this direction," said OASIS member and University of California adjunct professor Robert Glushko. "I want there to be royalty-free standards, but I'm a realist and I realize that there are some standards that would be difficult to develop if RF were the only option."

Glushko, who is pursuing a seat on the OASIS board of

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