In association with heise online

04 July 2008, 13:57

Dispute about Europe-wide definition of open standards

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A dispute has been sparked in Brussels about the definition of open standards to promote the interoperability between eGovernment services. According to drafts for a revision of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) which were recently presented by the European Commission's Directorate General for Informatics, the specifications of open standards have to be made available either free of charge, or for a specified nominal fee. If a standard, or parts of it, are protected by patents, the revision stipulates that these parts have to be "made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis" for third party use. This has caused protests by IT business associations like the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which counts Microsoft and Intel among its members.

Benoît Müller, the BSA’s Director Software Policy Europe, said in a news release "We are ... concerned about EIF v2.0 continuing to focus on narrowly defined open standards to achieve interoperability,". Accordign to the release, the definition excludes many "well-established technologies" that are implemented on the basis of accepted "open standards", claiming that most member states’ policies are based on more inclusive approaches. According to the BSA, this could jeopardise the very objective of promoting interoperability. Müller said the position of the European Commission to keep open standards free of charges for intellectual property causes "confusion" among both public administrations and the marketplace.

To substantiate its position, the BSA added a list (PDF file) with examples of widely used standards. Among them are protocols like Bluetooth, GSM, WiFi , DHCP and HTTP. The BSA claims none of these standards can be implemented without the revenue from industrial property rights. Jonathan Zuck, who has long joined the BSA in its support of software patents in Europe and is the President of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), also fears that the EU could score an "own goal". Zuck says that while the document aims to facilitate digital co-operation among European administrations, in effect it excludes many well-established technologies from being used, due to a narrow definition of open standards. The representative of large vendors like Microsoft and Oracle thinks that proprietary software must be allowed to compete on a level-playing field with free software.

Both BSA and ACT have long advocated licenses which allow the use of specifications with "Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory" conditions. These "RAND" conditions usually require the users of standards to pay a fee, or reciprocate in another way. Those who advocate free software consider these conditions incompatible with the open source principle.

Jan Wildeboer is an open source evangelist at Red Hat in Europe who supports the plans for the revised EIF version. He explained, in an interview with heise online, "Particularly the stipulation that presumed intellectual property has to be made available without the payment of license fees in open standards complies with a fundamental requirement for open source developers and providers of open source solutions." He said open standards are generally a "vital component of modern IT infrastructures", and was surprised that the BSA renewed its call for license fees to be paid for HTTP and DHCP. Wildeboer said this argument has already proved redundant in the debate about software patents.

(Stefan Krempl)


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