Taking a Look Behind the Sender ID Stir
The recent Sender ID for E-Mail spat had emotions running high. Why did open source and free software advocates dig in their heels over the patented standard? Are patent-encumbered standards anything new, anyhow? Open source developers and standards committee chairs speak up on Microsoft's own SPF: software patent flap.
If feelings run high when it comes to proposing an IETF standard which includes proprietary technology, many people in the open source community start seeing red mist when the company making intellectual property claims happens to be the 800-pound Microsoft gorilla.
This lesson has just been learned by the MTA Authorization Records in DNS (MARID) working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which is trying to create standard to fight email address spoofing based on a framework called Sender ID.
So what was all the fuss about?
Essentially, two similar authentication technologies -- Meng Weng Wong's Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Microsoft's Caller ID for Email -- were merged in June to create the Sender ID specification. The problem is that Microsoft has filed an intellectual property rights claim for Caller ID and says that its claim is covered in one of the three documents which make up the Sender ID specification. To compound the problem, the Redmond giant is unable or unwilling to specify what the claim or claims are.
On the face of it, the problem should be mitigated by the fact that Microsoft has agreed to licence its intellectual property on a royalty free, non-discriminatory basis, (effectively a free version of a RAND -- reasonable and non discriminatory -- license) and Andy Newton, co-chair of the MARID working group says that even though many members of the open source and free software community object to the inclusion of intellectual property in an Internet standard, including such leading lights as Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GPL (General Public Licence) for software, he thought these licensing terms should be satisfactory enough.
''Personally, I don't understand what Stallman's issues are,'' says Newton. ''This is certainly not the first time that the IETF has dealt with intellectual property in standards. Companies like Cisco and others have repeatedly said that they have patents that apply to open standards. They say, 'We have the patent, but the licence is free.' Ultimately, it's up to each working group to decide its position on standards and whether licensing IP is right. There are some standards which even require royalties to be paid.''