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Berners-Lee: Keep web standards royalty-free

In his opening keynote at the World Wide Web Conference in Hawaii, Tim Berners-Lee has spoken out in favour of keeping standards royalty-free.

Speaking specifically about the success of the open standards that allow the web to function - such as IP, TCP, HTTP, MIME, HTML and XML - Berners-Lee noted that it is highly critical that the communal nature of the specifications is preserved.

Enforcing royalties discourages adoption both by the open source community, who simply cannot pay royalties, and other companies who will shy away from the issues associated with licensing the technology.

This is particularly pertinent in eLearning specifications, as these are "high level" specifications that rely on a long list of other standards filling in the layers beneath. So, for example, SCORM relies upon IMS Content Packaging, IEEE Learning Object Metadata, and ECMA Script (JavaScript), which in turn rely upon XML, MIME and HTTP. If any parts of the specifications "stack" require patent royalties, then use of the standard comes at a price.

Although IBM ultimately backed down on charging royalties for use of its technology in the ebXML specification for e-business transactions, the possibility remains, particularly for web services technology, that some of the larger players at the table could turn around and start demanding adopters fork out for the right to adopt the standard.

For more on this story, see this article on the O'Reilly website.

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