A standard is a standard, or isnt’ it? By Paola Di Maio
7 January 2002
What’s a standard, anyway?
The IT industry over the last decades has been lead commercially by companies like Microsoft and Oracle, who tightly manage their kits and never even talk to people on the phone unless they are paying customers.
Their respective proprietary technologies have become
‘de facto’ standards, in that everybody uses them, so that all commercial classes of products and services in the market must revolve around them to be viable.
The open source movement, galvanized by the success of Linux, has been a motor of great changes for the IT industry in recent years, and it has directly or indirectly affected the way people think about IT.
It turns out that there are some people out there with great skills and ideas who develop stuff for everybody to download, configure and use at leisure.
This is likely to have an impact on content technologies and market growth.
Very interesting open source tools have been serving the content management market.
Packaged by software companies using free code, they are cool because ‘open source’ and offer several advantages, including the fact that they are ‘open’, but they are not necessarily cheaper to implement and manage, as they require large amounts of programmer's work hours to be worked in the project budget.
Here, open source is sometimes an ideological choice, rather than a matter of convenience.
The open source versus proprietary technology debate has now entered the content syndication domain, a relatively new and very important area of IT.
Last week a few weblogs and syndication technology developers groups were alarmed by the fact that the Canadian company UFIL, Unified Data Technologies, have instructed their solicitors to warn users and developers of RDF and RSS technologies that the code is proprietary and its unlicensed use is an infringment of intellectual property.
They are probably after some free publicity, and surely have no claim.
The problem here is not the technology, nor intellectual property law, but the lack of affordable cross breed specialists who understand both.
Clever, skilled lawyers are expensive, and a rather mercenary bunch.
They work for those who pay better.
The patents in question protect
a unique ‘method’, that can be classified as proprietary and is as such legitimately entitled to intellectual property protection.
(Us Patent #5,684,985, Method and Apparatus Utilizing Bond Identifiers Executed Upon Accessing Of An Endo-dynamic Information Node (EDIN). granted on November 4, 1997; filed December 15, 1994 and U.S. Patent #6,092,077, Binary-Oriented Set Sequencing. The patent was granted on July 18, 2000 and it was filed on December 18, 1998)
However RDF and RSS are equivalent distinct ‘unique’ methods developed by
common cooperation of several groups of users over the years, and ownership is shared by such community and by its users who further refine the method on a daily basis. Patents were never filed, but intellectual property right exists nonetheless.
This problem is rather common in intellectual property law.
Do I have to pay royalties to the Sacher family if I want to make and share a Sacher Torte with my friends and family, or even customers?
Do I require permission to produce my own personalised Sacher Torte with a couple extra ingredients or low fat version?
Do I have to ask permission or owe someone any fees when I make, eat or bake a Plate 'a la Wellington'?
Once a piece of unique intellectual property becomes so popular and widespread
to be adopted by a large portion of the population, it becomes PUBLIC DOMAIN.
An intellectual property claim of this kind is strictly related to the commercialisation of a product, and the investment and efforts placed in protecting
and monetizing its IP.
The firm claiming infringment should have profited from the commercialization and marketing of a software product based on the patent within months or a year from filing the patent, to leverage its commercial potential.
It is inevitable that new competitors emerge and even free products become available
as a consequence of industry development to propose a solution to existing problem
The question of patenting intellectual property is indeed a great challenge in modern economy, and legislation needs public attention and constant updating to protect the public good, and the progress of humanity at large.
Creative and technical skills take great efforts to be cultivated and yes they should be recognised and protected, but some intellectual property assets are indeed common property, and public property should be recognised and protected by the people and for the people.
Even more worrying are patenting issues relating to human bodies or parts thereof, and natural assets such as plants and animals that by definition are public goods.
There are some very worrying trends out there, like the patenting of rice, plants, genes, as well as xml.
It is likely that even greater intellectual property claims will have to be contrasted and the public interest will have to be defended in courts throughout the world.
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