End of last week the European Commission adopted and published a whitepaper on “Modernising ICT Standardisation in the EU - The Way Forward”. The document is available on the Commission website.
This whitepaper is a first step towards a reform of the European standardisation system. It focusses on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and the proposed reform steps might best be described as means for making Europe better equipped to benefit from and operate within the global ICT standardisation ecosystem – to the benefit of innovation, competitiveness and growth in Europe.
I am very supportive of the whitepaper and the proposals therein. In my opinion the Commission tackles the right issues and makes many good suggestions that go into right direction. Some highlights:
- The Commission recognises the need for a process for collaborating with global open standards development organisations like W3C, OASIS, IETF, etc. Under the current legal framework these organisations are outside of the European standardisation system and their specifications can not directly be used and referenced in support of EU policies or in public procurement. The proposals in the whitepaper aim for a major improvement in this respect;
- The Commission introduces a set of criteria (called attributes in the whitepaper) for ensuring openness of the specifications used and referenced in the public sector. This is the right approach towards ensuring best quality standards – even though there might still be some glitches in the wording of one or the other attribute definition. The criteria are closely derived from the WTO criteria for best practices in standards development. And the Commission's list will ensure that no closed, proprietary standards will be used in the public sector. What is extremely important, in my opinion, is that the criteria include the aspect of implementation – good, open standards need to have been implemented in several, competing implementations.
- The Commissions looks at improving the relation between research and development (R&D) and standardisation and the transfer of R&D results into standardisation. This is particularly important for R&D activities on the level of infrastructures and architectures. Every action to facilitate the transfer of such R&D results into open standards will be helpful – for making such work available for open ecosystems design and innovation on top of these results.
- The Commission makes an excellent analysis of the current status regarding the intersection of standards and intellectual property rights (IPRs) recognising that new approaches regarding IPR policies in standards organisations are under way and are needed for better fostering innovation and the exploitation of technologies for the benefit of competitiveness and growth. The actual proposals made by the Commission go into the right direction, but probably need to be extended and made more concrete, e.g. regarding industrial policy for fostering innovation and regarding the improvement of certainty regarding terms and conditions and the availability of patents for licensing.
- The Commission lays down the importance for standards based public procurement and, at the same time, enables public procurement to directly reference global open standards.
- The Commission proposes to implement a High Level Strategy Platform as an advisory committee to the Commission on ICT standardisation. This will improve communication and cooperation around ICT standardisation. The list of tasks for this platform as described in the whitepaper is excellent. It will be important for the Commission to ensure that all stakeholders are properly represented in the platform.
What is important next is that the proposals made in the whitepaper will be implemented into EU legislation fast. This means, first of all, that Council Decision 87/95 will be revised – or, more likely, be replaced by a new Council Decision. In addition, some of the ideas and proposals should further be taken up in the context of an overall revision of the European standardisation system (concerning Directive 98/34) and within competition law, patent law as well as in industrial policy in general.
To summarise: I am positive of the benefits of the proposals made by the Commission. This whitepaper responds to urgent needs of many stakeholders, be it industry, SMEs, users, and, above all, the public sector iteself. It is a major step towards gaining a leadership position for Europe in ICT in the globalised world. The whitepaper deserves strong support.