Monday, 26 November 2012

Final version of the EU Regulation on Standardisation published in OJ as Multi-Stakeholder work progresses

I am awfully late with this post. My excuse: it all happened when I was travelling two weeks ago and when I was simply too busy and distracted for typing blog posts...

Nonetheless, it's great news: The final version of the EU Regulation as approved by the European Parliament and the Council has now formally been published by the European Commission in the Official Journal (OJ). It is openly available and can freely be downloaded from the OJ.

Again, congratulations to the Commission and to Parliament and Council for this wise final version. It is marks an evolutionary progress in Europe in the area of standardisation. Its major novelty is the way how to deal with and integrate global ICT specifications into the European standardisation system in order to make best use of them.

Meanwhile also the second meeting of the ICT Multi-Stakeholder platform took place - already four weeks ago. It was the first meeting after agreement on the final version of the Regulation was reached. Hence the first meeting when the opportunity of identifying global ICT specifications from fora/consortia is given.

Consequently, the Platform discussed the procedure for identifying fora/consortia specs and for assessing them against the requirements and criteria in Annex II. Before fixing a clear process for doing the assessment the Platform agreed to start a test balloon with four specifications: XML (W3C); Ecma script (Ecma international); 802.11 (IEEE); and IPv6 (IETF); the specifications from Ecma and IEEE are looked at with extensions and updates, respectively, that are not part of the version approved by ISO. As a first step four sub-groups of the Platform have been formed to gather the basic information and, in a second step, to produce a draft statement of advice for the Platform to debate and reach consensus on.

There had been a debate in the Platform on how to best structure and organise the work of making an assessment, i.e. of gathering information and producing a draft statement of advice. One or two organisations present in the Platform seemed, at least judging from their line of argumentation and from the phrases they used, to propose that single, ad-hoc groups are responsible for doing an entire assessment. This would be an inacceptable way of "divide and conquer" and would reduce transparency and the ability of the entire Platform to raise issues and participate in the consensus building on the final statement of advice.

To me it is unnegotiable that
  • the process of identifying and assessing fora/consortia specifications needs to be highly transparent at all times; 
  • each Platform member needs to have a fair chance to provide input on candidate specifications under review;
  •  time-lines need not be too long because we are serving a public interest, but long enough for comprehensive feedback gathering and for doing the piece of research that needs to be done; 
  • proper mechanism, preferably web based, need to be set up for giving the interested public a chance to submit comments, as well.
Regarding workload, I am not sure whether either the Commission or the Platform will be able to perform all required work on their own. I could imagine - and from OFE we said so already two years ago - that the Commission needs to hire a person for gathering the required input and for producing a draft statement of advice for further discussion in the entire Platform.

But let's first see how the test balloon goes, how high the required work load is - and on this basis look at possible steps for optimising.

For the time being, it is great news that the Regulation is final and that the Platform work on fora/consortia specs, which is, after all, just one of many tasks of the Platform, has started with four common and globally relevant specifications.

Very good workshop last Thursday on Open Source and standardisation

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:
  1. Open source is used and integrated everywhere for the high degree of innovation it contributes to the IT market.

  2. 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. 

  3. 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. 

  4. For implementing standards in open source they need to be available on Royalty-free (or, as it was sometimes coined, “Restriction-free”) terms. 

  5. 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.