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17 May 2011, 14:46

UK government open standards policy in international dispute

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Cabinet Office logo The UK Government policy on open standards appears to be placing them in direct conflict with international standards organisations. The UK policy is designed to level the playing field between proprietary and open source software by requiring only royalty free intellectual property be included in standards referenced for government procurement.

A report in Computer Weekly cites a letter written by the chairman of the Joint Presidents Group (JPG) CEN/CENELEC/ETSI, Juan Carlos López Agüí, to the minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude. The letter says that the UK government's definition of open standards "is on a road towards excluding standards from the majority of the most important standards bodies... from being used in UK public procurement". Agüí says that the problem is the requirement that standards must have intellectual property irrevocably available on a royalty free basis. Many international standards contain references to royalty-bearing intellectual property such as patents surrounding, for example, the H.264 video standard which has an entire royalty gathering business built around it.

According to the report, it is believed that the ISO will also soon intervene over UK government policy on a similar basis. If the UK government tried to use international standards without paying royalties, David Bell of the BSI suggests that it would break a number of international conventions and result in the UK being "kicked out of the international standards-making community". Last year, the European Interoperability Framework v2 lost its royalty free clauses after lobbying by international standards bodies and larger software companies.

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman told Computer Weekly the standards policy was "not set in stone" and the UK definition was currently in consultation. That consultation includes a survey which, in section 12, asks if Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint should be considered as standards for the public sector.

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