Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tensions between IPRs and ICT standardisation – Need for action on all sides

On Monday this week I attended the workshop jointly organised by the European Commission and the European Patent Office (EPO) on “Tensions between Intellectual Property Rights and the ICT standardisation process: reasons and remedies”. It was a very interesting conference with an impressive set of speakers. Regarding the agenda this conference built nicely on the one on IPRs and ICT standardisation of November 2008 looking more closely and some of the issues that had then been identified.

Very briefly, I noted the following seven points as key items coming out of the discussion. They are all very important and I consider this an excellent result of the conference:
  1. Problem areas do exist and there is need for action both from public authorities, from standards bodies and from the EPO.
  2. Progress is made in several organisations regarding improved IPR databases and the collaboration with EPO on this. The ETSI DARE project for restructuring the ETSI database was given as a prime example.
  3. The EU patent would be a significant step forward. It is also one example for government action.
  4. The concept of a License of Right is worth pursuing. It would be viable method for ensuring the availability of patents for standardisation. There were several supporter of this in different panels.

  5. The topic of ex ante declaration of licensing terms remains disputed. Yet, there seems to be a dividing line between software standardisation on the one hand and telecommunication on the other hand.
  6. Regarding open source the key issue is not to use and implement open source technologies in proprietary offerings but it is for open source communities to implement standards that are available only at FRAND terms.
  7. The idea for a Software Interoperability Directive was brought forward that governs that standards for software interoperability should be available under terms and conditions that allow their implementation in open source.
There was one presentation that – to my mind – did not quite fit into the respective panel but that was interesting for for another reason. A gentleman representing a consortium (that he several times called himself a “club”) explained that this “club” produced a specification and then collaborated with Cenelec for transposing it into an EN. So far so good. But the representative clearly stated that his consortium, which is a for-profit organisation, uses this standard for doing certifications. This is frightening and, in fact, in my mind to some extend an abuse of standardisation. This example once again illustrates the justification of the requirement for Open Standards that they are developed in non-profit organisations.

The Commission and EPO announced that they are going for a follow-on conference next year with a focus on the international dimension which as not covered by the agenda this time.

I believe that this Monday's conference, however, produced already a number of results that are critical items and that the Commission and EPO will start working on right away. My seven points above might give an indicator of those critical items. And perhaps some intermediate results can already be presented at the conference next year.

A further outcome, out of my perspective, is that the issues identified are not crucial for the revision of the European standardisation system that has been ongoing since 2006 and is supposed to be finalised by mid 2011. And I'd like to repeat: the ICT sector is in urgent need of reforms concerning the EU ICT standardisation policy as proposed in the Commission's ICT White Paper of 2009.


Mark Lange said...

Thanks, Jochen, for this interesting interpretation of the industry. Could you address a couple questions: Where exactly is that dividing line between software and telecommunications, in an age of unified communications? Where is the dividing line for ICT standards that can be implemented either in software or hardware? Such pre-convergence thinking has evaporated in a cloud.

Some think that interoperability is important, period. Some even had the foresight to join organizations dedicated to the promotion of “interoperable systems”. ICT systems that include software, hardware, services – that all have to interconnect more and more seamlessly.

The more you repeat “software interoperability” as a focus of attention, the more you remind people what you don’t want: interoperability and IP licensing requirements that touch hardware and services businesses. Software is vital, absolutely, but in today’s industry, the interaction of systems, of all elements of systems, is more important than ever. It is getting harder to draw dividing lines – and when you try, it looks like you are trying avoid openness and interoperability in areas beyond software.

Jochen Friedrich said...

Hi Mark, nice to hear from you. Thanks very much for your comments – and sorry for the late response but due to other commitments I neglected my blog for a while. Let me try to briefly respond to some of the topics you raise:

To begin with, please note that I give my impressions of the conference. I am certainly not saying that the conclusions reached at the conference are my own positions – let alone my company's positions.

Convergence does not mean that everything becomes undistinguishable and merges into one big, amorphous mass. Convergence rather results in using some of the same technologies. In a simplified way you could say that for telecommunications this means to leverage the potential of the IP protocol to some extend – yet, without replacing the distinct telecommunications technologies and standards entirely. And, in fact, the open standards from IETF, for instance, like IP, have been a major driver for innovation in the telecommunications sector complementing the distinct telecommunications technologies.

Regarding the Cloud, I'd like to draw your attention to the Open Cloud Manifesto that has broad support in the market place – see In particular, the Principles of an Open Cloud, laid down on page 7 of the manifesto, is very clear about what is needed for and open cloud. And the document in total elaborates very well on the various requirements and implications. The includes the provision of services via the cloud.

In general, hardware, software, services is not an amorphous, undistinguishable mass, either. There are different requirements on hardware, for instance in the area of product safety, for which different kinds of standards are implemented and used. Moreover, a different kind of innovation takes place both in the area of hardware and again different in the area of services. All of this requires some level of detail regarding the instruments for best supporting innovation in the respective area. I believe that to claim that it's all the same is not at all helpful here and will lead nowhere.