What Is An Open Standard

When we as software professionals speak of Open Standards we mean Open Standards (as defined in the EU IDABC European Interoperability Framework, recently confirmed by the European Parliament1)

Open Standards in a nutshell

  • development: multi-partisan and open, independent non-profit body
  • documentation: public specification
  • use and implementation: open standards are 100% license-free standards.

For instance you don't need permission from Tim Berners-Lee to write software that displays or generates html files. You may even create a webbrowser that implements a html derivate. You don't have to license html to get your personal website.

  • Html is ubiquitous today. The WorldwideWeb is an unprecedented success story for the open standards model that taught standard committees worldwide a lesson: openness of standards matters. Less control leads to better standards and prevents anti-competitive effects.
  • Electronic Office Documents are ubiquitous as well. A success story for a software monopolist and we and our governments pay the bill for our strategic dependencies. But now we have a modern open standard for the same purpose: Open Document Format, also known as ISO 26300:2006.

Not so open OOXML

  • OOXML stands for Microsoft Office Open eXtensible Markup Language, which is misleading: it is no open standard.
  • ODF = OpenDocumentformat is an open standard. It is also an ISO standard.

ISO Standards don't have to be Open Standards

ISO is less strict than e.g. W3C when it comes to openness of standards. It does not require ISO standards to be Open Standards. ISO's minimum condition is RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory) licensing fees for intellectual property. Every standard user is forced to license intellectual property covering the standard and pay a fee. Even when an ISO standard is "free of charge" you still may be required to license its implementation when it is covered by patents under "free of charge" terms:

The words “free of charge” do not mean that the Patent Holder is waiving all of its rights with respect to the essential patent. Rather, “free of charge” refers to the issue …that the Patent Holder will not seek any monetary compensation as part of the licensing arrangement…However, … the Patent Holder is still entitled to require that the implementer of the above document sign a license agreement that contains other reasonable terms and conditions such as those relating to governing law, field of use, reciprocity, warranties, etc.

But Open is better

Here, we face a choice between bronze and gold, that is RAND and Open Standards or in other words between OOXML and ODF.

Alchemy #define open rand

How to turn Bronze into Gold? Answer: you lobby for new definitions of Open Standard which make RAND patent license terms compatible. Very good targets for these purposes are international diplomats, officials and politicians.

Mr. Hoing in his BSA letter (pdf) to UN APDIP.

…does not recognize that many existing open standards are available on Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RAND) licensing terms and unrealistically advocates for all open standards to be available royalty-free. Most major standards bodies permit standardization of technologies that include innovations subject to patents (“essential” patents) so long as the patent owner agrees to license the essential patent claims to implementers of the standard on RAND terms.

Mr. Mudd from CompTIA writes to the same UN researchers

The greatest fear of patents in the software standardization process is the misconception that they would hinder the interoperability of different types of computer programs and file formats. CompTIA would like to make it absolutely clear that robust intellectual property protection – particularly the patentability of computer-implemented inventions – is not a deterrent to interoperability, but may in fact enhance it by providing industry with the right incentives to further invest in the development of such standards. Unlike trade secrets, patents also encourage transparency.

At ITU-T, a closed international body for the Telcoms, patent attorneys from an IPR Ad Hoc Group presented a perverted open standards definition. ITU-T does not adhere to open standards but everyone in standards claims to be open.

IPRs essential to implement the standard to be licensed to all applicants on a worldwide, non-discriminatory basis, either (1) for free and under other reasonable terms and conditions or (2) on reasonable terms and conditions (which may include monetary compensation). Negotiations are left to the parties concerned and are performed outside the SDO.

Bronze is beautiful

Microsoft Letter to UN APDIP:

While adopting open standards is one good approach to achieving interoperability, it is not the only approach, and it is not the case that any other approach is without merit.

Hugo Lueders, Initiative for "Software Choice", better known as Brussels CompTIA representative or "the industry":

Open standards compatibility should be a major selection criterion for software to ensure its interoperability, though it should be recognised that … preferences for any open standard or versions of open standards, including OSS-style open standards, should be avoided to preserve the utmost flexibility .. for administration interaction and business problems.

Magical effects

RAND patent licenses discriminate software licensed under the GNU General Public License. For instance OpenOffice.org.

Magical healing

A better Microsoft patent clarification and full disclosure of the specification could turn an obsolete broken document standard such as OOXML into an obsolete broken open document standard.

Other stuff

IOSN: Microsoft's 'Men in Black' kill Florida open standards legislation

EU threatens Microsoft with "structural remedy" over antitrust compliance

"In 50 years of EU antitrust policy we have never before encountered a company that has refused to comply with a Commission decision," Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes …she added "It could be reasonable to draw the conclusion that behavioral remedies are ineffective and that a structural remedy is warranted."

The best cure against softpatent madness is to follow the FFII and its recommendations. Interesting developments are discussed on Digital Majority. Hartmut Pilch also presented his proposed 10 Core Clarifications which would stop the undesirable patenting of software in Europe.

Art 30 of Gatt Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property rights (TRIPs) Treaty offers room for interoperability enforcement

Members may provide limited exceptions to the exclusive rights conferred by a patent, provided that such exceptions do not unreasonably conflict with a normal exploitation of the patent and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the patent owner, taking account of the legitimate interests of third parties.

Digimaj: Pieter Hintjens answers Shuttleworth - Microsoft is the threat

But in the internet universe, firms compete to contribute to patent-free open standards, which become the basis for whole new economies. There is no question of what works better. Open standards like SMTP, TCP/IP, HTTP are orders of magnitude more successful - in terms of creating new markets - than even the most successful patented standards, like MP3, and GSM.