FUD and the Lost Argument

I've had quite a few people contact me concerning a serious allegation made by Microsoft's Brian Jones in his blog and again later. Brian does his level best to smear Sun with this statement:

While we’re on this topic, I think it’s important that you all take a look at the comparable situation with Open Document. A lot of folks just seem to assume that since it’s a standard, there are no IP issues and everything is very straightforward. Well, take a look at this: http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/office/ipr.php Sun seems to be saying that it may have IP in the Open Document spec. While Sun says it is willing to provide a royalty-free license, one would still need to ask Sun for a license. The license is not posted. It would be interesting to see, and I'll probably try to see if I can find it. The statement on the site alone reveals that at a minimum, they have at least one condition – you have to give Sun a reciprocal license.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that Brian's position is 100% pure FUD. The statement he points to at OASIS is just a boilerplate statement put in place before OASIS created a royalty-free IPR option in their range of IPR policies (a change Sun advocated). It does not say that Sun "may have IP in the Open Document spec" - it says that, even if Sun did, it would freely grant a license tp anyone implementing ODF. But we don't, so the issue does not arise, the text is just for completeness, it's standards bureaucracy.

Here's what Eduardo Gutentag, Sun's primary representative at OASIS (and the current Chair of the OASIS Board) had to say in a recent e-mail to the OpenDocument TC:

There are a few things that should be made clear, since the goal of FUD is always to make things unclear.

What Sun posted as an IPR promise in 2002, as anyone in this field knows, including Brian, was a conventional short form assurance that, if we turned to have any patents that read on the specification, we would license them RF. We have never turned up any patents reading on the specification, so there has been no need to compose, let alone grant, a license. (Let me remind you that the issue here is an XML schema, not software; the very idea of patenting and enforcing patents against schemas is really more someone else's style and idea of fun than Sun's.)

The whole point of that assurance was to voluntarily remove FUD, by making it clear there would be no licensing obstacles.

We have all come a long way since 2002. After some aggressive uses of asserted patents and sub-licensing issues-- again, not from us -- the open source communities are now very cautious about precise license terms. This is actually good. And many vendor companies have also become more sensitive to the needs of the open source communities. This is even better.

Brian's comments join many of the comments in Microsoft's response to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in being misleading misinterpretations of apparent facts, which rely on their readers being outsiders to the domain at hand. So to summarise a few of those facts for their readers:

  • XML is a standard but is not sufficient to give anyone sovereignty over their data. That takes a shared format implemented with XML.
  • While XML transforms provide a means for a programmer to rescue data stored in an incompatible file format, end-users need applications to share formats if they are to gain independence from their suppliers.
  • OpenDocument is an independent, royalty-free standard, which does not require licensing from any of its contributors.
  • OpenDocument is implemented in multiple codebases by open and closed source software and by companies that compete against each other.
  • Any vendor is free to implement OpenDocument alongside their closed formats or as the primary format for their software.
  • As the format is extensible, they need lose no information even if the format currently has no explicit support for their innovative features.

It's standard marketing to FUD and/or make threats when you're losing the argument. I think Brian's statement gives us a clear indication of what's happening.


Brian has thanked you (in comments/replies) for clearing that up. Do you think that he was actually uncertain? I ask because Gutentag says: "What Sun posted as an IPR promise in 2002, as anyone in this field knows, including Brian, was a conventional short form assurance" ...which seems like a pretty clear indication that his original article was deliberate slander.

Posted by Matt C on October 04, 2005 at 04:18 AM PDT #

I found nothing i was looking for.

Posted by Muhammad Faizan on March 11, 2006 at 05:15 PM PST #

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