02.15.12

Tim Berners-Lee Finally Takes Action Against Patents on the Web

Posted in Patents at 2:22 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Tim Berners-Lee

Image from Wikimedia

Summary: The Web’s inventor, who always insisted on patent- and royalty-free Web, addresses a standing issue

THE HONOURABLE MAN who was inspired in part by Richard Stallman when he created the free Web is making headlines again. It is about the case which we wrote about in posts such as [1, 2, 3].

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, a journalist who is currently being smeared by Microsoft employees, writes about this piece of news that’s pretty big. Timothy B. Lee’s angle on Timothy Berners-Lee can be found here. “But no third cheer,” writes Simon Phipps (OSI), “because, all the same, it’s a hollow victory. Despite the fact every technically-competent engineer on the Internet (including my colleagues at Sun who worked on the HotJava browser and were also pursued) could see the patent claim was specious, Eolas has still been able to spend more than a decade making huge sums of money simply by threatening people with enormously expensive litigation.”

Here are some more articles about this theme:

  • WebKit dominance threatens the open web
  • Tim Berners-Lee Takes the Stand to Keep the Web Free

    The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, testified in a courtroom Tuesday for the first time in his life. The web pioneer flew down from Boston, near where he teaches at MIT, to an eastern Texas federal court to speak to a jury of two men and six women about the early days of the web.

    His trip is part of an effort by a group of internet companies and retailers trying to defeat two patents — patents that a patent-licensing company called Eolas and the University of California are saying entitle them to royalty payments from just about anyone running a website with “interactive” features, like rotating pictures or streaming video.

Last year Tim and I chatted briefly on Twitter about patents in the Web, so the above action is reassuring. Glyn Moody writes about this by retweeting Tim:

RT @timberners_lee Texas jury agreed Eolas 906 patent invalid. Good thing too! >>that’s a relief…#swpats

As an aside, there is this ongoing discussion about why the patent system fails. Jan summarises as follows:

What started as a post on Googleplus turned into quite a nice braindump of my struggle with the current patent system. Hence I decided to also turn it into a blog entry. Please do read the comments on googleplus as they contain a lot of additional insight and counterarguments.

[...]

So when both sides of the equation fail in society (not the market, patents are a deal between society and creators, not a deal in the market, a mistake many people make) the patent system is NOT doing what it is meant to do.

Now can we get back to the original deal? I doubt it. Reforms will not suffice for that.

A good first step would be to annul all software patents. Tim said that software patents are "terrible". He is a scientist and renowned innovator, not a lawyer.

“Let me make my position on the patentability of software clear. I believe that software per se should not be allowed patent protection. […] We take this position because it is the best policy for maintaining a healthy software industry, where innovation can prosper.” —Douglas Brotz, Adobe Systems, Inc.

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4 Comments

  1. Michael said,

    February 15, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Gravatar

    Webkit is open source and does not threaten the open web.

    What silliness.

    I thought you were *for* open software and standards!

  2. DaemonFC said,

    February 16, 2012 at 2:08 am

    Gravatar

    It is a problem when they suggest that people use their own additions to web standards.

    The vendor prefix for CSS items that have not been approved as standards are there to encourage people to test them out, not call them on actual sites meant to be viewed by the public.

    It’s good that we have an implementation of these things in free software (Webkit), but it’s still only one step up from what was going on with Internet Explorer.

    In this case, the Webkit project can make anything they want a de facto standard, bypassing the standards approval process of the W3C and forcing other browsers to implement things that have no public standard or simply render the broken sites in standards compliance mode and baffle users when the page in question is garbled.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Let’s not forget the whole Webkit-KHTML story, either.

    Michael Reply:

    Forks happen.

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