Open Letter To Geoworks
Posted on 20 Jan 2000
by Steve Cook (Ratface)
Rated 3.89 (Ratings: 0)
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Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel
960 Atlantic Avenue
Alameda, California USA 94501
I am writing on behalf of a mailing list which I run for WAP Developers - wap-dev (information at http://wapwarp.com/wap-dev ). This is an open letter to yourselves and to WAP developers everywhere. The letter can also be found in HTML format at http://wapwarp.com/geoworks.
I have several thoughts about Geoworks' recent announcement regarding your Intellectual Property Rights. I hope that you may be able to shed some light on several issues that are puzzling me personally and I'm sure will be of interest to many who are developing WAP applications.
I don't wish to get into the specifics of the patent itself - such an analysis is frankly beyond me and deserves to be taken up in a courtroom by some brave soul, I am wondering more about the effects of your licensing scheme in relation to WAP as an emerging technology.
We have seen in the last 6 years an incredible explosion in on-line activity and services, brought about chiefly through the wide spread of HTML and the creation of the World Wide Web. This explosion has created huge opportunity for countless companies who have embraced the open HTML protocol. Companies who were "in at the beginning" now rank amongst the world's fastest growing companies and the western world is seeing unprecedented new opportunities for communication, business and commerce. In all, thanks to Tim Berners Lee's selfless act in making HTML an open standard, the world as a whole has benefited beyond belief.
Let's consider for a moment what might have happened if he had chosen to license HTML instead for a sum of (say) USD 20,000? Who can believe that the Internet would be even nearly so popular as it is today? Twenty thousand dollars is a considerable barrier to entry for a company. Especially when there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not a company with a turnover of 1,000,000 USD would qualify for a fee waiver ( "Companies with annual gross revenue of less than $1 million may be eligible for a fee waiver. ").
It is extremely difficult to imagine that companies would have been prepared to innovate, expand and utilise a protocol that was so "owned". Sure, some other brave protocol may have come along in the meantime, but who knows?
Let's move forwards to today. WAP is looking strongly like the "next big thing" in network communications. I myself am prepared to stake a lot of my free time on creating a search engine site to help those early adopters like myself find information about WAP and to find those few early examples of WAP sites. The first steps that I have seen towards creating compelling WAP content have been extremely exciting. For the first time, I can truly envision a merger between the huge wealth of information that is the Internet and the flexibility of platform that is a Mobile Phone.
What a shame it would be if developing (content and software) for mobile phones were to become the preserve solely of large corporations. What a shame if innovation were to be quashed. What a shame if WAP were to fail miserably as a format because one company chose to raise the barrier to entry above the means of most innovators.
The early days of the web showed quite clearly that open standards (HTML) win while closed standards (The Microsoft Network, Compuserve etc) fail. I have also seen nothing to convince me that companies who demand ransoms for using their technology have particularly profited by it. Better by far to spread a technology and find a more "wholesome" way to profit from its implementation and expansion.
In your letter to Wap Forum members, you claim that
"As a member of the WAP Forum, Geoworks desires to foster the growth of the WAP Specification and the commercial success of WAP Forum members who adopt the specification in their products and services. At the same time, Geoworks is obligated to act in the best interests of its stockholders and seek fair compensation for the significant research and development investment represented in its patent portfolio. "
I feel that your licensing terms will damage the growth of WAP as a standard.
Can you please shed further light on the following aspects;
- How will companies who are not members of the Wap Forum be affected by your claims?
- Would Geoworks' and the Wap community's needs be better served by a more flexible and open licensing scheme?
- Are the potential negative effects of your actions worth the potential gains?
- Can you expand upon the statement "Companies with annual gross revenue of less than $1 million may be eligible for a fee waiver. " - what are the criteria here?