18 June 2010

EU's Standard Failure on Standards

Let's be frank: standards are pretty dull; but they are also important as technological gatekeepers. As the shameful OOXML saga showed, gaining the stamp of approval can be so important that some are prepared to adopt practically any means to achieve it; similarly, permitting the use of technologies that companies claim are patented in supposedly open standards can shut out open source implementations completely.

Against that background, the new EU report “Standardization for a competitive and innovative Europe: a vision for 2020” [.pdf] is a real disappointment. For something that purports to be looking forward a decade not even to mention “open source” (as far as I can tell) is an indication of just how old-fashioned and reactionary it is. Of course that omission is all of a piece with this attitude to intellectual monopolies:

The objective is to ensure licences for any essential IPRs contained in standards are provided on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory conditions (FRAND). In practice, in the large majority of cases, patented technology has been successfully integrated into standards under this approach. On this basis, standards bodies are encouraged to strive for improvements to the FRAND system taking into consideration issues that occur over time. Some fora and consortia, for instance in the area of internet, web, and business process standards development have implemented royalty-free policies (but permitting other FRAND terms) agreed by all members of the respective organisation in order to promote the broad implementation of the standards.

This is clearly heavily biased towards FRAND, and clearly hints that royalty-free regimes are only used by those long-haired, sandal-wearing hippies out on the Well-Weird Web.

But as readers of this blog well know, FRAND is simply incompatible with free software; and any standard that adopts FRAND locks out open source implementations. That this is contemplated in the report is bad enough; that it is not even acknowledged as potential problem is disgrace. (Via No OOXML.)

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Carl-Christian Buhr said...

You may want to point out that "the new EU report" is actually a report written by an expert panel composed of "30 individual experts from European, national and international standardsorganizations, industry, SMEs, NGOs, trade unions, academia, fora and consortia
and public authorities from EU Member States and EFTA countries" (page 3-4, more details on the group are here: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/european-standards/standardisation-policy/policy-review/express/ and the list of members can be downloaded from http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/regexpert/detail.cfm?ref=2245&l=E). The European Commission has set up this panel and invited it to make recommendations. This does not mean that the European Commission agrees with all recommendations made or will incorporate them in its forthcoming proposal.

On substance, it may also be worthwile to consider that the European Standardisation System covers all types of standards, including for car safety, construction etc. In view of this it is perhaps better understandable why a specific issue such as open source software is not mentioned.

Glyn Moody said...

@Carl-Christian: thanks for those points.

Yes, it's written by a panel, but obviously it will have some weight.

And yes, it covers all kinds of standards, but that's why I said it should have at least *mentioned* the issue for free software.

After all, in ten year's time, we'll probably have open source hardware, which will have the same problems for cars and construction....