UK Government establishes royalty free open standards
The UK Government has now, definitively, established a definition of open standards as royalty free. The Cabinet Office has published a list of Open Standards Principles which define an open standard as one made through a transparent, collaborative process, fairly accessible for zero or low cost, mature and supported by the market.
Most importantly for open source and free software, it also requires that an open standard be one for which the "rights essential to implementation of the standard, and for interfacing with other implementations which have adopted that same standard, are licensed on a royalty free basis that is compatible with both open source and proprietary licensed solutions". The new definition was welcomed by Simon Phipps, president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), who told The H that he was "pleased to see these Principles embodying the work OSI did in the mid-90s on the Open Standards Requirement, as well as the recognition given the Open Source Definition by the link to OSI's license list". He added that "When standards can be implemented freely by open source software they are truly open."
The publication of the principles brings an end to a process which began in February 2011 when the Cabinet Office offered procurement guidance which defined open standards in a similar fashion. Some organisations suggested this was incompatible with international standard setting organisations. Some companies also pressed a suggestion that the royalty free definition blocked the use of standards such as H264 which required FRAND patent licence royalties.
By December 2011, the government had decided to pull its recommendation and moved to a public consultation process which asked how an open standard should be defined, how open standards should be mandated and how should those standards align internationally. That consultation ended in June after some difficulties saw it extended by a month.
The principles themselves are:
- We place the needs of our users at the heart of our standards choices
- Our selected open standards will enable suppliers to compete on a level playing field
- Our standards choices support flexibility and change
- We adopt open standards that support sustainable cost
- Our decisions on standards selection are well informed
- We select open standards using fair and transparent processes
- We are fair and transparent in the specification and implementation of open standards
The document offers explanatory statements, rationale and implications for each of these principles. The development of future government open standards is also covered and mentions the Standards Hub, a web site for sourcing, creating and adopting open standards; it is pointed out though, that the site is in the early stages of development.