My recollection is that there are rules about use of patented
technology in Internet standards -- something to do about the
patent owner has to make them available to all for a reasonable
fee. I don't know whether Unisys has done this or not.
There are some rules about this, but they don't apply since licenses
for LZW are in fact available and the terms are not obviously
I haven't yet seen any agreement on the part of Unisys to make
licenses for GIF generally available under reasonable terms.
(Perhaps it exists, but I haven't seen it. Has the IESG?)
It seems to me that, now that we know that Unisys is indeed claiming a
patent over GIF implementations, we would need such a statement from
Unisys to promote MIME on the standards track. Rumor has it that IBM
has a prior patent that covers the same algorithm, in which case we
might need a statement from them also. This gets into the whole can
of worms where someone has to decide whether a particular patent
applies to a particular technology...but our rules say that we don't
do that. (and it's a good thing that we don't!)
As a matter of fact, you will find at least two Internet
drafts that propose using patented compression algorithms,
draft-ietf-pppext-hpppc-00.txt, with the former actually using LZW!
(Are these on the standards track? I haven't followed PPP very
closely, but was under the impression that they were not.)
As such, I don't think there's a valid objection to be made here on
procedural grounds. And I do agree that any such entanglements need to
be described in the RFC (although there's no requirement I'm aware of
to do so).
This doesn't mean that you or anybody else can't object on principle.
However, this brings up a case I have never considered -- we have a
stable, operational, well documented format here that has caused no
significant problems and in fact has proven to be quite useful and
violates no procedural rules I'm aware of. What grounds can be used
to argue for the removal of such a thing from a specification?
Frankly, I don't know any!
No, I'm not objecting on principle, at least not at this time. The
policy for the use of patented technology has already been considered.
I'm just suggesting that we follow it.
While it seems wise to wait until the dust settles (which might
perhaps give Unisys a chance to make GIF available on fair terms), I
think this issue needs to be decided before the image/gif portion of
MIME advances to Full Standard.
For reference: from RFC 1602, pp 29-30:
] 5.4.2. Standards Track Documents
] (A) ISOC will not propose, adopt, or continue to maintain any
] standards, including but not limited to standards labelled
] Proposed, Draft or Internet Standards, which can only be
] practiced using technology or works that are subject to
] known copyrights, patents or patent applications, or other
] rights, except with the prior written assurance of the
] owner of rights that:
] l. ISOC may, without cost, freely implement and use the
] technology or works in its standards work;
] 2. upon adoption and during maintenance of an Internet
] Standard, any party will be able to obtain the right
] to implement and use the technology or works under
] specified, reasonable, non-discriminatory terms; and
] 3. the party giving the assurance has the right and
] power to grant the licenses and knows of no other
] copyrights, patents, patent applications, or other
] rights that may prevent ISOC and members of the
] Internet community from implementing and operating
] under the standard.
] (B) ISOC disclaims any responsibility for identifying the
] existence of or for evaluating any copyrights, patents,
] patent applications, or other rights, on behalf of or for
] the benefit of any member of the Internet community, and
] ISOC takes no position on the validity or scope of any
] such rights. Further, ISOC will take no position on the
] ownership of inventions made during standards work, except
] for inventions of which an employee or agent of the
] Internet Society is a joint inventor. In the latter case,
] the Internet Society will make its rights available under
] license to anyone in the Internet community in accordance
] with the written assurances set forth below.