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2008-04-02 Royalty Free versus Reasonable and Non Discriminatory Licensing

When you are in a standardization process (in other words, around the table with different people trying to make a "standard"/document), there are two major ways regarding the licensing of the "patented technologies" required for the standard. Either you use the Royalty Free licensing model or the (un/fair) Reasonable and Non Discriminatory licensing model.

Obviously, if you want a real open standard, you have to go for the royalty free licensing model. To better understand the difference, an example is better than theory.There is nice example of a Royalty Free license around ATOM (RFC 5023 and RFC 4287) made by Google at the IETF (you are required to disclose any patent claims around a (proposed) standard) :

Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, Google hereby grants to You a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, no-charge, royalty-free, irrevocable (except as stated in this License) patent license for patents necessarily infringe d by implementation (in whole or in part) of this specification. If You institute patent litigation against any entity (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that the implementation of the specification constitutes direct or contributory patent infringement, then any patent licenses for the specification granted to You under this License shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed.

The wording is clear, there is no real ambiguity and the license is compatible (be careful, I'm not a lawyer) with free software implementation. I think that's fine for the promotion and the use of open standard. The license is valid for everyone and you don't need additional interaction with Google to have the license.

Now, here an example of a RAND (Reasonable And Non Discriminatory) licensing model, this one has been made by Cisco about VRRP :

Cisco is the owner of US patent No. 5 473 599, relating to the subject matter of "Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol for IPv6 <draft-ietf-vrrp-ipv6-spec-04.txt>. If technology in this document is included in a standard adopted by IETF and any claims of this or any other Cisco patent are necessary for practicing the standard, any party will be able to obtain a license from Cisco to use any such patent claims under reasonable, non-discriminatory terms to implement and fully comply with the standard.

First you need to contact Cisco to have a license but the terms are unknown. "Non-discriminatory" is vague and could be an issue for any free software implementation. I know that we cannot make from an example a general case but I'm still trying to find a RAND license where it is clear and without ambiguity. When you are around a table at the a standard body, please go for a real Royalty Free licensing model. That would ease adoption of the standard (by promoting free and non-free use of the standard) without the administration burden required with a RAND licensing.


Patents are only for the old machine