Last Thursday I was speaking at a Commission workshop about standardisation and open source. The workshop was titled “FRAND and Open Source – Business as usual or mission impossible?”. And right in the welcoming sessin the Commission clarified that the intention was not to drive some regulatory activity but to facilitate the dialogue on what is a complex and – I would add – sometimes heated topic and debate.
In my opinion the workshop was excellent. It was one in a longer sequence of workshops organised by the Commission on standardisation and IPR. And while at previous occasions open source had been on the agenda with just one speaker representing an open source community this time there were real experts in the filed on stage. The result was a highly informative workshop with very clear analyses of the situation and the issues. All speakers in the morning and all panel discussions in the afternoon provided great insights and were extremely good. The presentations and a meeting summary produced by an independent rapporteur will be available soon on the Commission website of the workshop.
It was especially the two excellent presentations from Malcolm Bain and Ian Mitchell QC, both legal experts with deep knowledge on open source, which provided a fantastic introduction into the issues and the topic overall. This was further deepened in the panel sessions of the afternoon, especially in the last panel with three representatives from open source companies or implementers, respectively.
My handfull of key take-aways from the workshop are:
- Open source is used and integrated everywhere for the high degree of innovation it contributes to the IT market.
- From all of the open source licenses it is the GPL license family with its copyleft requirements which creates and issue for implementing open source in FRAND technologies. But it is not impossible to integrated GPL licensed open source software into an overall technology portfolio if done in the appropriate way.
- The major issue is for open source communities to implement FRAND based standards. FRAND as it stands today – i.e. including royalty-payment and other licensing conditions – is not compatible with open source.
- For implementing standards in open source they need to be available on Royalty-free (or, as it was sometimes coined, “Restriction-free”) terms.
- This effects software interoperability standards because this is where Open Source is actually active and concerned.
In my session – which was only a five minutes slot in one of the panels – I took a plea for a nuanced approach towards promoting openness and open source in ICT standardisation. There are areas where open source is a major contributor to innovation and where standards, therefore, need to be available for open source communities to implement and make use of. These are, in fact, the software interoperability standards mentioned earlier. And these standards should be available Royalty-free – here I full concur with the open source community requests.
Looking at the market place this has actually been accepted by the market players. The respective standards bodies like W3C, OASIS and others have adopted either Royalty-free IPR policies or options for Royalty-free. In my personal opinion this route is one that more standards bodies need to explore: allowing for a clear RF option in their policy so that in the areas concerned, i.e. about software interoperability, every standards body can develop a standard that is available for implementation in open source. After all, open source help tremendously in improving the quality of technologies (which was also demonstrated in the workshop, by the way) and in promulgating respective standards.
So to sum it up in a nutshell: Congrats to the Commission for a great workshop with an excellent agenda. Finally, Open Source got the attention at a level which it deserves.