IBM, Cisco Spar Over MPLS

IBM Corp.'s disclosure that it will protect the technology it contributed to a key Internet standard has raised concerns among some vendors and industry observers.

The company earlier this month informed the Internet Engineering Task Force that it is seeking patents on some of the technology that it contributed to the emerging Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) standard.

IBM officials stated that the company would license the technology "under reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms" but did not say if it would charge a fee. Observers say charging a fee might muddy the standards process.

MPLS is designed to provide guaranteed quality of service across IP networks, including the Internet. It contains mechanisms to tag packets with routing information.

IBM's most significant contribution to the standards body was Aggregated Route-based IP switching, a mechanism for aggregating route information for routing efficiency.

Officials at IBM and Cisco, the key contributors to MPLS, last week verbally sparred during an open discussion at an Internet bandwidth management conference.

Without naming IBM, Judy Estrin, Cisco chief technology officer, lamented a tendency toward protection of proprietary technology in standards development.

"There is a natural inclination to get protective," Estrin said. "I think it's unfortunate, but inevitable."

According to John Tavs, TCP/IP technology manager at IBM, the terms of a licensing agreement and provisions for "change control" are the key issues in treatment of proprietary technology in a standards process.

Change control refers to how a vendor may restrict the use of one technology with others, Tavs said. Whether a fee is charged will depend on the terms in each licensing contract, he added.

IBM Corp., in Armonk, New York, can be reached at Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, California, can be reached at

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