Three news items caught my interest this week. all slightly related:
- Dr. Neelie Kroes has made a significant speech How to get more interoperability in Europe on practical steps on interoperability and standards. She presents this as building on the speech two years ago that I covered in Neelie Kroes gets it: "Standards are the foundation of interoperability.".
- Lars Marius Garsholl has blogged on My report on OOXML and ODF which is interest in particular because it shows the gap even now between the promise and the reality of open standards. (Readers may be amused that the Groklaw take on the report is, because it paints a less than rosy picture, it must be a result of Microsoft manipulation: Garsholl points out in a comment that he actually was against OOXML becoming an ISO standard.)
- It looks like some success in getting Microsoft to disclose information necessary for interoperability. (I write 'necessary' not 'sufficient'.).
Read Kroes' speech! There are some odd takes on it: for example, ZDNET 's Dana Blankenhorn gets Kroess comes out as open source advocate even though Open Source per se is not mentioned in the speech at all (Open in the sense of IP-unencumbered software is!). The speech was given at OpenForum Europe (Blankenhorn calls this 'OpenSource Europe' too :-) probably accurately.)
Key phrases from Kroes:
- The standards that power the digital world are made by the economic actors. In Europe only ETSI allows these actors to directly participate in the making of standards. One negative result is that the standards underpinning the emerging universal communication platform: the internet and the world wide web - including standards for content formats - are made elsewhere. (Readers might like to read my Balance of interest ~= Broader representation for more on this issue. And I see Simon St Laurent has been thinking about it recently too here.)
- we must use all opportunities to promote appropriate rules for ex-ante disclosures of essential IPR and licensing conditions in standard-setting contexts.
- we will draw up detailed guidance on how to analyse a technology buyer's requirements in order to make best use of ICT standards in tender specifications. ... After a certain point that original choice becomes so ingrained that alternatives risk being systematically ignored, no matter what the potential benefits. ... Many authorities have found themselves unintentionally locked into proprietary technology for decades. ... It is even worse when such decisions result in the waste of private money on top....That happens where the public authorities' decisions force citizens to buy specific products (rather than any product compliant with an applicable standard) in order to make use of a public service.
- For me, it is a fundamental tenet that public administrations spending tax-payers' money should opt for the least constraining solution that meets the requirements for a given need.
- with my colleagues in the College I will seriously explore all options to ensure that significant market players cannot just choose to deny interoperability with their product. ... I am looking for a way to ensure companies offer the required information for licensing.
The ideas that come across several times is the desire to move from ex post to ex ante management of competition policy with open standards (including comprehensive measures to require publication of interop information by vendors, and to encourage suitably agile standards bodies, and to encourage IP-unencumbered or open-licensed standards.) It is very significant that Kroes defines truly open largely in terms of IP and information:
they do not come with any constraints for implementers
I think Kroes is outlining a comprehensive agenda here, and it is one that many other national government competition regulators and procurement policy-makers will be very interested in. And it seems one that is entirely consistent with my longstanding call that All Interface Technologies by Market Dominators should be QA-ed, RAND-z Standards!.
The writing for this kind of policy has been on the wall for while. Non-partisan institutions like government may establish policies to meet particular competition challenges (in particular the issues of Microsoft's market domination and bundling advantages and the issue of patent disclosure for standards participation) but they then must derive the principles and apply them uniformly to other players.
One area that will come up, I expect, it that if open standards are necessary for proper competition but the current US-based patent regime is profoundly undermining of standards efforts, can both be accommodated? My view is that the patent system will need to be balanced by more laws that privilege and protect open standards.