What does RAND mean?

Apparently, it must mean something, because I find it being referenced in (supposedly serious) discussions about .NET licensing.

The acronym literally translates as “Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory”. So far so good. Except I don’t have a clue what it means. What does “reasonable” mean when applied to a patent licensing policy? Well, according to my own interpretation of this word, a licensing policy is reasonable when it prevents the patent from being used to impose a tax on any users of any program. But this is just my point of view on what is reasonable. Can you expect patent holders to agree with your point of view on what “reasonable” means when interpreting their own promises?

Obviously, only if you trust them, which beats the point of them issuing promises in the first place. This is why some of us reject the “RAND” term. It’s essentially deceitful, because it implies there’s an agreement on what is reasonable and what isn’t. The proposed alternative, UFO (for “uniform fee only”) has a clear meaning, and it usually corresponds with what patent lawyers mean when they say their policy is “reasonable” (mind you, I don’t consider uniform taxation reasonable at all).

So whenever you read about Microsoft promising a license under “reasonable” terms to anyone who asks for it, as if being reasonable had some sort of standard meaning, don’t fall for the trap. Stop for a while, check what they’re actually delivering (or whether they’re delivering anything at all) and consider what “reasonable” means to you.

6 Responses to “What does RAND mean?”

  1. Mono Roundup: Still Dangerous, Still Not Acceptable | Boycott Novell Says:

    […] now have this article whose headline is “What does RAND mean?” What it means to Free software is that it is a term to avoid, according to the GNU doctrine. […]

  2. Josef Assad Says:

    I think people are talking past one another with respect to RAND. The “Non-discriminatory” bit in the ISO context for example would consider non-discrimination in the context of its members, all larger institutions (there is no individual membership in ISO). So when those folks say “this is” and “this isn’t” RAND it isn’t entirely relevant to an open source project since it’s geared more towards the kind of members and stakeholders ISO traditionally has catered to. What Novell might consider reasonable isn’t what Tom X. Opensourcedeveloper would consider RAND.

    Taking the ISO example again, they aim for IPR unencumbered standards but as ISO/EIC 29500:2008 is a good example of, they will also allow RAND IPR licenses from the patent holders.

    What this ought to do is to guard against submarine/undisclosed patents but in practise, what really happens is that when an un-RAND’ed patent emerges in an approved standard the best case is the organisation issues a standard update. Yay.

    So, RAND doesn’t really mitigate any patent concerns for free software projects.

  3. ,,, Says:

    It’s about Ubuntu!

  4. Np237 Says:

    How does it relate to Debian?

  5. Anonymous Says:

    http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#RAND

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