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30 April 2012, 16:27

Report: UK open standards bungle led to U-turn

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Standards icon Confusion over the interpretation of the UK open standards policy between the UK government's Cabinet Office and BSI, the British standards organisation, led to a U-turn on the policy, says a report by Mark Ballard in Computer Weekly. Using Freedom of Information requests, Ballard found that Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude had reassured the BSI and the ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) that the policy was not a block on the organisations' standards. The UK government policy had proposed mandating only royalty-free standards. The ISO objected as many of its standards are chargeable and may require royalty payment. Maude pointed out in a letter that the policy only concerned Government ICT procurement specifications, and specifically that

The definition is not intended to describe the operating or licensing models of ISO, iEC or BSI and there is no intention for UK Government to openly share copyrighted material without permission.

The assurance did not appear to satisfy Mike Low, BSI director of Standards, who wanted the definition of open standards changed saying, in a July letter, that it would "recommend you clarify that the term open is not regarding the pricing /licensing models but the fact they must have been through an open process". Ballard reports that it took direct discussions between the BSI and the Cabinet Office to reassure it on this point, but the BSI still maintained its opposition to the new policy. The ISO says it was not reassured on the issue.

The government had already pulled back its commitment to open standards in June and, apparently in the face of continued opposition, retracted the policy in favour of a new consultation process. That process was due to close this week, but has been extended by a month after a conflict of interest concerning an independent roundtable facilitator led to the input from that event being set aside.


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