On October 25, Technologyreview.com Executive Web Editor Wade Roush interviewed CEO Doyal Bryant, along with Paul Odom, Scientigo’s chief scientist and senior vice president, and Ron Laurie, managing director of Inflexion Point Strategy, an intellectual property consulting firm and member of Scientigo’s intellectual property team.
Wade Roush: Please walk me through the parts of your patents that you believe XML infringes upon.
Ron Laurie: The central concept is called “neutral form.” Paul [Odum] developed it in the database domain as a solution to the problem of transferring data between databases in a way that the receiving application would know everything it needs to know to process the data. What happened was, the Web world had essentially a very similar problem: how to publish documents on the web, and, later, to exchange data on the web. The Web community’s solution to the problem started to converge with the database problem, and the web community’s solution was XML. We’re not talking about XML as it existed in its earliest instantiation – we’re talking about XML after the creation of the schema and namespace applications, which occurred after our patent filing date. A lot of people say these patents were filed after the XML working group was formed. That’s true, but at that time the XML working group didn’t do neutral form.
WR: When did you start to think that what the W3C was doing infringed on your patents?
Paul Odom: The day that I saw the namespace specification issued by W3C, I immediately knew there was an overlap. Neutral form is the holy grail of data transfer, and that’s what we set out to do with these inventions. Prior to that, people had done only neutral format – things like HTML and SGML. We were looking for neutral form, which is self-defining information – meaning you can give it to a third party and they understand not only what the data means, so it can be used, but also what its relationships are, universally, to anything that may be related to it….When the namespace application was added to XML, there was now a universal way to identify a data item. And that’s one of the claims in the patent – how do you define the universal identity.
WR: We all saw what happened when SCO sued IBM over proprietary code that IBM had allegedly introduced into Linux. The lawsuit alone was enough to slow down Linux adoption for more than a year. How is what you’re doing not like the SCO case?
RL: The first thing is that open source is essentially a copyright model, and that’s what the SCO case was all about: pieces of Linux being proprietary. Patents are a different model entirely. The open-source community is struggling with the relationship between the open-source model and third-party patents. But in general the fact that something is developed using an open-source model does not mean that it isn’t subject to the normal rules about patents. Open source is all about derivation. It says, “If I do something with what you did, I have to license it under the same open terms under which you licensed it to me.” There is nothing about derivation in patent law. You could never have heard of me or seen my patent, but if you do something that overlaps, that’s infringement. And it’s been that way for hundreds of years. There needs to be some common ground between the open-source community and the patent community.
WR: But how do you go about “monetizing” a patent on something as widely used as XML without spooking other companies and slowing down innovation and adoption?