[ffii] Internet standards process undermined by software patents

Jonas Maebe jmaebe at ffii.org
Tue Jun 27 10:53:58 CEST 2006

PRESS RELEASE -- [ Europe / Economy / ICT ]

Internet standards process undermined by software patents

Brussels, 26 June 2006 -- The IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) 
Working Group for a new standard for the "syslog" protocol is being 
confronted by an undisclosed software patent by one of its Working Group 
members, the Chinese company Huawei.  This patent supposedly covers part 
of the work done by the standards group.  Huawei proposes a royalty free 
license, but the working group remains unhappy.

"The proposed license can be revoked at any time", explains Jonas Maebe 
of the FFII, "which means that there is no guarantee to anyone who 
implements this standard that they won't be hit with arbitrary royalty 
claims in the future."

Exactly this happened when part of the JPEG image compression algorithm 
was patented, and the patent owners (Compression Labs Inc.) offered a 
royalty free license.  Compression Labs went bankrupt, Forgent bought 
the company and its patents, and the result was that thousands of firms 
were forced to pay for using an image format which had become the 
standard for every web site and digital camera.

"People will not take the risk of adopting new standards that have this 
kind of patent risk," adds Rainer Gerhards of the IETF syslog working 
group.  "If we cannot produce new software standards, innovation will 
slow down and stop.  Imagine being forced to use 1980's infrastructure 
to do business today."

In Europe, the FFII educates the people about the dangers of software 
patents, while the EU Commission is still fighting to have these 
legalised on a wide scale across Europe.  Last week, Commissioner 
McCreevy said before the EP's Legal Affairs Committee that "protection 
of intellectual property stimulates and rewards innovation".  This lofty 
promise is overly general, since software patents are obviously killing 
the standards process and all the innovation that depends on it.

FFII president Pieter Hintjens concludes: "Standards are the backbone of 
the modern IT industry.  They create new markets, new businesses and 
jobs.  I challenge any pro-patent lobbyist to explain how a new software 
standard can be published today without risk of a patent ambush.  It's a 
simple question.  The IETF would be keen to have an answer, and so would 
the hundreds of thousands of IT professionals whose jobs depend on 


* Disclosure of unpublished patent application to IETF and discussion

* Latest version of the license offered by Hauwei

* Follow-on discussions about alternatives to work around the patent
  (of which it is not yet known what it covers exactly)

* McCreevy's speech before JURI (Legal Affairs Committee) last Thursday

* Permanent link to this press release

Contact Information

Jonas Maebe
FFII Board Member
jmaebe at ffii.org

Benjamin Henrion
FFII Brussels
+32-2-414 84 03 (fixed)
+32-484-56 61 09 (mobile)
bhenrion at ffii.org

About the FFII -- http://www.ffii.org

The FFII is a not-for-profit association registered in twenty European
countries, dedicated to the development of information goods for the
public benefit, based on copyright, free competition, open standards.
More than 850 members, 3,500 companies and 100,000 supporters have
entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions
concerning exclusion rights (intellectual property) in data processing.

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