IETF IP Contribution Policy

Lawrence Rosen lrosen at
Thu Jan 18 18:41:46 UTC 2007

Open Letter Regarding IETF IP Contribution Policy

(Feel free to copy. My apologies in advance for cross-posting)



I want to let you know about the latest proposal from the IETF IPR Working
Group regarding rights in contributions made to IETF for Internet standards.


IETF, the most democratic and open of standards organizations, is proposing
a contribution policy that, simply put, may result in standards that are not
truly open for implementation and use in open source software. This draft
policy offers, in section 3.3(a)(E), generous copyright licenses for
contributions, but it expressly omits any patent licenses: 


... (it also being understood that the licenses granted under this paragraph
(E) shall not be deemed to grant any right under any patent, patent
application or other similar intellectual property right disclosed by the
Contributor under [RFC3979]).

The draft policy contains this language because, as one participant said on
the IPR WG discussion list, it should be up to each individual IETF Working
Group to decide whether a standard should be adopted even though a
contributor's necessary patent claims may not be freely available to
actually practice the standard. This is worse in some respects than the
"reasonable and non-discriminatory" policies that the open source community
has been fighting against in other standards organizations. This new policy
does not even promise RAND, much less FREE, patent licenses. This
contribution policy may actually result in standards that can't even be
implemented at a reasonable price by proprietary software companies, let
alone by open source projects!


The IETF is a public trust, and the intellectual property rights in IETF
contributions are being given to a 501(c)(3) public benefit organization for
release as Internet standards. I do not believe that IETF working groups
should ever promulgate private standards for the financial benefit of
private patent owners, no matter how wonderful the technology.  


As I said above, IETF is a democratic and open organization. Many engineers
and others in the open source community already participate in IETF working
groups and contribute to this essential commons of open standards for the
Internet. I encourage every IETF contributor to read the proposed IETF
policy and to express your own opinion about whether it should be adopted in
its current form.


The co-chair of the IETF IPR WG, Harald Alvestrand, suggested that I take
this issue to an open list. He also invites anyone who wants to participate
in this debate and to vote on the proposal to join the discussion group.


/Larry Rosen


Lawrence Rosen

Rosenlaw & Einschlag, a technology law firm (

Stanford University, Lecturer in Law

3001 King Ranch Road, Ukiah, CA 95482

707-485-1242 * cell: 707-478-8932 * fax: 707-485-1243

Skype: LawrenceRosen

Author of "Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and 

                Intellectual Property Law" (Prentice Hall 2004)


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