EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

Regarding ‘Kroes presses ahead with open IT standards‘:

Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes is right to ask for disclosure rules by standards bodies in order to make it easier for others to use and adapt technologies based on such standards.

OASIS – which you quote – already has the most comprehensive and up-front disclosure of all patents and intellectual property claims. It will be interesting to see whether the same demand is also placed on all standards bodies, including the three European standards bodies, CEN, CENELEC and ETSI.

It will also be important in the debate on the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) to assess the real value of open source as distinct from open standards. Whereas open standards contribute very positively to the IT eco-system, I personally believe there is much misunderstanding surrounding open source: even if ‘open’, increasingly complex code, often poorly maintained and under the aegis of a singly consultancy firm, can often create greater ‘lock-in’ and dependency than reliable, well-documented, licensed and known commercial software.

It is a delicate balance to strike and the European institutions play an important role in promoting IT standards at the right level: not getting stuck in the weeds of too much detail but ensuring there are standards in place that do the job intended – to provide a level playing field for all IT suppliers to achieve public eService goals.

Peter Brown

President, OASIS

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Comments

  1. “provide a level playing field for all IT suppliers”

    Sorry, but accepting patents and royalties in standards just do the opposite.

    It restricts the ones who can participate, errect barriers for open source companies, and promote software patents via the RAND policy.

    This is exactly what OASIS has been doing, and it has changed its patent policy which is using the undefined RAND term.

  2. Free Software has the answers to your objections. “Open Source” software that can only be made by one vendor is no better than non free software, but surely it is no worse because parts of it are “open”. Just as surely, the only way to avoid “lock in” is to eliminate software patents and adopt free software, which is often technically superior to its restricted competitors.

    More to the point, patent and royalty free standards provide real freedom and competition because they can be implemented by anyone without asking for permission. ODF does this for office documents and OGG Vorbis and OGG theora for media. Any free software desktop user can tell you that these standards have already been adopted by several large software projects and that they work well. Given the availability of such high quality tools, I’m at a loss for why government bodies would consider anything more restricted.

  3. So – only software free of all patent claims? An Information Society without GSM?, without WiFi?, without Bluetooth?, without the Macs or iPhones (ironically so beloved of so many open source proponents)?…. HTML only became a standard more than a decade after its massive uptake, and other key parts of the information superhighway are still not formal standards.
    In my letter I stressed the need for balance – standards cannot be reduced to a simplistic formula refusing all intellectual property claims, but where there are such claims, the standards communities and everyone working with them, should know about them in advance of the standards being adopted.
    As for the separate debate on open source – I won’t go into that, precisely because it is a different issue: open source is a legitimate and strong process and methodology – but it is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for open standards.

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