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According to Euractiv the Business Software Alliance BSA is "worried that the pending European Interoperability Framework (EIF) will give technologies that have open specifications an advantage in public sector bids."

How dare they! It seems difficult to defend private patent toll gates for public services and countervene the Digital Standards Organisation call for an openness preference, so the argument is completely unrelated sinophobia:

"The EIF contains "worrying echoes of Chinese policy," Francisco Mingorance from the BSA told EurActiv."

In 2007, the Digistan workgroup started designing a framework for grass-roots development of free and open digital standards. Today Digistan publishes its first specification, COSS, and a reference implementation in the form of a pre-configured wiki.

Digistan founding member Alberto Barrionuevo explains the reasons for COSS: we wanted to offer small teams a fast, cheap, and flexible way to develop their specifications into free and open standards. Setting up a foundation is an important step in a software standard's history, but it's a large step that most small teams can't make.

COSS is a fully-distributed peer-to-peer model. André Rebentisch, who helped build the Digital Standards Organization and COSS, says: each contributor makes a unilateral grant, allowing others to use their work under specific conditions. Those conditions include the right to branch and merge, which is radical for specifications but a much appreciated freedom in the free software community.

The COSS lifecycle defines a specification as a contract between designers, implementers, and users. The weight of the contract depends on where the specification is, in its lifecycle: from raw, to draft, to stable, legacy, and through to retired. COSS editor Pieter Hintjens concludes, this model allows for experimentation, and standardization, which are normally opposed to each other.

Digistan has developed a reference specification, a web site that acts as a template for projects. One such project has already started, the RestMS specification for web messaging.

Knowledge Ecology International adds a proposal concerning open standards to submission for the WIPO Standing Committee on Patents 13th session. Their proposal could provide a solution for standards organisations such as ISO.

Attachment – Part 6.1 and 6.2 of May 10, 2005 Draft proposal for a Treaty on Access to Knowledge
Part 6 - Promotion of Open Standards
Article 6-1 - Committee on Open Standards
A committee on open standards (COS) shall be established.
Article 6-2 - Disclosure obligations for patents relating to standards development organizations.
(a) The COS shall establish a process and criteria for a Standards Development Organization
(SDO) to request a managed disclosure of relevant patent claims for standards relevant to a
knowledge good or service. To make such a request, the SDO must be global, with a
membership that is open to any party, and the qualifying open standard must:
VERSION 1
i. be adopted and maintained by a not-for-profit organization, and with ongoing
development based upon an open decision-making procedure available to all interested
parties (consensus or majority decision);
ii. be published, with the specification of the standard available either freely or at a nominal
charge, with permissible to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a nominal fee;
and
iii. the intellectual property aspects of the standard, including the relevant patents or data,
shall be made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis; and
iv. there are no constraints on the re-use of the standard.
VERSION 2
i. be published without restriction (e.g., potential implementers are not restricted from
accessing the standard) in electronic or tangible form, and in sufficient detail to enable a
complete understanding of the standard’s scope and purpose;
ii. be publicly available without cost or for a reasonable non-discriminatory fee for adoption
and implementation by any interested party;
iii. Any patent or data rights necessary to implement the standards are made available by
those developing the specification to all implementers on reasonable and nondiscriminatory
(RAND) terms (either with or without payment of a reasonable royalty or
fee); and
iv. The process to develop, maintain, approve, or ratify the standard is by consensus, in a
market-driven standards-setting organization that is open to all interested and qualified
participants.
(b) The request for a managed disclosure process shall include the following:
i. A description of the SDO
ii. An initial specification of the standard, including the expected applications for the
standard,
iii. The benefits to the public of the development of the standard,
iv. Disclosures of patents relevant to the proposed standard that are not responsive to the
requirements to be specific with regard to the relevance of the patent to the proposed
standard shall be rejected.
(c) Members agree that a patent holder that fails to make constructive disclosures of relevant
patent claims will be prevented from enforcing the patent against the implementation of the
open standard.

An upcoming EEI ROUNDTABLE - "IP-FREE OPEN STANDARDS IN ICT : ANOTHER EU OWN GOAL IN THE INNOVATION RACE?" on 21
January (12:00 - 14:00) at the Renaissance Hotel in Brussels will consider the following:

Despite the fact that the ICT sector is considered strategic for growth and innovation in the broader economy, the EU has fallen behind its competitors in terms of investments in ICT R & D. As the European Commission prepares to lay out a strategy for this sector in the 21st century, there is increasing pressure on EU and national public authorities to buy ICT products that conform to open standards that contain no intellectual property, or in which the intellectual property is subject to low or zero royalty rates and/or cannot carry use restrictions.
Where does this pressure come from? Does it really serve the interests of a European Union determined to compete in the global knowledge economy? Or does the warm-sounding populist rhetoric calling for "openness" risk turning Europe into an innovation "dead zone"?

EEI's Peter Jungen is a legendary member of the old Brussels lobby guard who masters the challenges of modern internet societies with 1950th cold war rhetorics and German angst. He is looking for answers to his questions from:

Gunnar Hökmark, Member of the European Parliament and Moderator,
Ken Ducatel, Member of the Cabinet of EU Commissioner Viviane Reding,
Pilar del Castillo, Member of the European Parliament,
Laurent Lachal, Senior Analyst, Ovum,
Stéphane Tronchon, Qualcomm,
Per Werngren, CEO of IDE (Sweden)
Nigel Gibbons, CEO of Unitech (UK) and
Jens Gaster, Senior Expert Industrial Property, European Commission, DG Internal Market

Website European Enterprise Institute: http://www.european-enterprise.org/

Nearly all DRM concepts are patented like crazy. Interoperable DRM is a myth.

The EU Council of ministers adopted a resolution.

Council Conclusions on the development of legal offers of online cultural and creative content and the prevention and combating of piracy in the digital environment
2905th EDUCATION, YOUTH AID CULTURE Council meeting
Brussels, 20 November 2008

Most commentators focused on the aspects related to the controversial three-strikes proposal of the French presidency which currently lacks backing from the European Parliament. The final conclusions from the Council resolution show where the national ministers want the European level to take action:

INVITES THE PARTIES CONCERNED to launch consultations or to join them, in a constructive spirit, with a view to
– finding concrete, effective and fair solutions promoting the development of legal online offer and the prevention and combating of piracy;
promoting the interoperability and ensuring the transparency of technical measures to manage and protect rights."

The Council did not address legal interoperability problems but only technical measures. However, you can expect interoperability of licensing conditions to be a major building block in the "development of legal online offer".

The Parliament WRITTEN QUESTION E-3622/08 ("Use of open source software in the Commission") by Hiltrud Breyer to the Commission concerns both use of open source and open standards. The German member of Parliament wants to see a more proactive embracement of open source and open standards, a demand shared by many of her colleagues. She asks for a more specific plan for the adoption of open standards. September 17 2008 Commissioner Kallas responded on behalf of the European Commission to her question raised three month earlier. The relevant content of these questions is reproduced below.

It has to be pointed out that the EU-Commission does not respond to specific requests for information concerning timescales. The German MEP seems to be used to the German parliament style of written questions. On the European level the Commission usually tends to hand pick some of the issues raised and takes the freedom not to answer complex questions. This is why MEPs usually need to file seperate questions.

Hiltrud Breyer's first question about conversion to open standards

Open standards and open source software are ready to be used in public institutions. The Foreign Office in Germany already began converting its IT infrastructure to Linux and open source software in 2000, and publicised its positive experiences with the operating system and software. The French police force is also working with open standards and open source software, and the Dutch Government and Parliament are expressing interest in using it. In addition to the cost savings to public funds when purchasing and maintaining operating systems and software, the use of open standards and open source software ensures the independence of software enterprises, stimulates innovation and guarantees that all citizens have an opportunity for political involvement, regardless of which operating system and software they use.

1. Does the Commission plan to convert its IT infrastructure to open standards and open source software? If so, is there a timescale in place? If not, why not?

Commission answer


Open Standards can be implemented both in proprietary software and OSS, and OSS solutions are not necessarily always compatible with Open Standards. Therefore, there is as such no formal relationship between OSS and Open Standards. However, Open Standards are generally widely supported in OSS and many Open Standards have reference implementations in OSS.

Is has to be highligthed that for the Commission the use of any particular category of Information Technology (IT) tools at internal level is not an objective in itself but rather a means to achieve its political, economic and social mandate, including carrying out its tasks in the most efficient way, constantly ensuring appropriate user satisfaction and best value for EU taxpayers' money.

The Commission has adopted and, whenever required, updated its specific "OSS Strategy" since 2001. The rationale and main lines of this strategy in its current form are publicly available. For more information, the Honourable Member is invited to consult the following reference site: http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7389/5998.

The key items of this strategy are:

(1)The Commission will formalise the use of OSS where a clear benefit can be expected.

(2)The Commission will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurement. Contracts will be awarded on a "value for money" basis. Not only licence costs but also setup, maintenance, support and training costs of all alternative solutions will be considered.

(3) For all future IT developments, the Commission shall promote the use of products that support recognised, well-documented standards. Inter-operability is a critical issue for the Commission and usage of well-established Open Standards is a key factor to achieve and endorse it.

(4) For all new development, where deployment and usage is foreseen by parties outside of the Commission IT infrastructure, OSS will be the preferred development and deployment platform.

Unfortunately, the OSS strategy document the Commission talks about is not disclosed under the mentioned link. It seems respective documents are now hosted under the new Open Source Observatory website.

Hiltrud Breyer's second question on institutional promotion of open standards

2. Does the Commission regard it as its job to press ahead with converting European Union institutions to open standards and open source software? If so, what measures does the Commission plan to take and will should these be taken? If not, why not? …

Commission says it lacks competence for other European institutions

2. The Commission would like to point out that, although a significant degree of inter-institutional cooperation exists in the domain referred to in the Honourable Member's written question, the EU Institutions are administratively autonomous and separate from one another. As such, it is ultimately each EU Institution's responsibility to adopt any decisions in order to set up its administration as it sees fit. This principle also applies to procurement operations conducted under the Financial Regulation which for each Institution fall under the exclusive responsibility of the designated Authorising Officer(s).

Hiltrud Breyer's third question on platform neutrality

3. What action is the Commission taking to ensure that citizens with the appropriate software from any provider can access and receive information from EU institutions as well as governments and public authorities of the EU Member States?

Commission answer: we support ODF, PDF and more

3. The Commission is currently able to accept and generate documents compliant both with ISO1 standards, such as the Open Document Format (ODF) and the Portable Document Format (PDF), as well as with other formats widely used by citizens, businesses and public administrations.

In this area, the Commission constantly cooperates and exchanges views with the other European Institutions.

Furthermore, within the framework of the Commission's IDABC2 Programme, the Commission works with representatives of the Member States to promote and facilitate Open Document Exchange Formats (ODEF). For more information, the Honourable Member is invited to consult the following site:
http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/3439/5585.

The Commission does not respond here to issues concerning access to audiovisual content which is perceived as a "document" in accordance to the definition in the document access directive. In the case of audiovisual content users regularly complain about discrimination of certain software applications and a lack of support for open formats by the European institutions, which usually source out electronic register to external contractors without setting specific requirements.

BSA & ACT are indirectly funded by Microsoft Corporation. Their argument that they support small business and "innovation" is a load of excrement. Microsoft uses patents & proxies, such as patent trolls (Nathan Myhrvold of Intellectual Ventures) offensively against small companies. If MS was to actually compete on the merit of its products, it would go out of business.

The official response says:

The UK Government champions open standards and interoperability through its eGovernment Interoperability Framework Version 6.0, 30th April 2004 (eGIF) and through the publication of its Open Source Software Policy which is available in the document “Open Source Software, Use within UK Government, Version 2.0, 28 October 2004”.

This and eGIF are available from www.govtalk.gov.uk. Where possible the Government only uses products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.

Italics added.

The EU Commission announced on June 25 that EIF/2.0 (The European Interoperability Framework which defines the rules for software used in e-Government) will hold the line as regards patents on standards.

The announcement is expected to annoy those who wanted a "broad" definition of open standards that would include patented standards. As expected, the Business Software Alliance and the Association for Competitive Technology, both vocal in their defense of software patents and patented standards, have denounced the move as "imposing one business model over another".

The move has also been described as "hurting small tech start-ups that rely on patent protection to survive". "Even programs like BlueTooth are excluded", says ManagingIP.

The BSA and ACT are notorious spokesmen for large US corporate interests, and claims that small, innovative European technology firms need patents to survive do not match the data. A recent EU-sponsored study on the use of patents, copyrights, and trademarks in European software SMEs had to go to Israel to find SMEs that held and licensed software patents. Apparently European IT SMEs just don't use patents.

The Commission's robust defense of the term "open standard" and its support for open source software reflect the reality of the European technology sector, which is overwhelmingly made up of SMEs that use, produce, and depend on an increasingly sophisticated ecology of open source and open standards.

The principle that e-Government should not be captured by vendors is a good one, though it goes against the corporatist trends we see in many parts of the world, and infuriates large US technology interests, who covet the growing EU government budgets. The deregulation and outsourcing of the state, by and for private interests, has become so accepted in the US that one can understand the shock and horror with which US corporate interests view the EU's insistence on large government and regulation. The term "free market" has almost opposite meanings on the two sides of the Atlantic.

We therefore expect to see concerted lobbying against the EIF/2.0 definition by the patent industry, by Microsoft, BSA, ACT, and the many dependent organizations that represent Microsoft business partners (ironically called "the European software industry" by some). Specifically, we expect to see accusations that the no-patents definition of open standards discriminates against specific providers, that it damages innovation, that it ignores the value of patents, that it will result in innovative firms leaving Europe, that it is illegal under trade agreements, and so on. We expect to see pressure applied on the Commission from the highest levels of US power.

Digistan applauds the EU Commission, and holds that patents have no place in open standards except as a mechanism to exclude competition and to raise costs to the State and EU citizens. Furthermore, EIF/2.0 does not exclude patented standards from e-Government, it simply does not allow these to claim the label "open".

Question, Does anyone know how this went? I'm curious to know.

From 17 to 20 June South Africa's e-Documention workgroup of the Presidential National Commission on the Information Society and Development (PNC/ISAD) hosts a workshop to discuss the use of XML standards in government. The event would take place at the Tshwane University. Tshwane, better known under its colonial name Pretoria, is the executive capital of South Africa.

The event focusses on the adoption of XML standards by the public sector. The agency announced prominent speakers as Patrick Durusau, Rob Weir and Steve Pepper who were key persons in the controversial debate over OOXML and ODF standardisation. Topic maps specialist Pepper recently came to Den Haag to launch the Digistan Hague Declaration. The host nation South Africa pioneered the appeal against OOXML ISO standardisation. The agency also takes a strong role in the promotion of interoperability by the public sector with its release of the Minimum Interoperability Standards document, MIOS pdf document.

The event is sponsored by Microsoft South Africa, IBM, Sun Microsystems and the Meraka Institute.

- Sita - South African Information Technology Agency

Hi, thanks for raising the issue you did with my post about the IT Rights…

I'm surprised that my comment was perceived as a slight objection, as I truly didn't intend it to be an objection in any way. In fact, I wrote the post because after reading the Hague Declaration, I thought it was a good idea. I apologize if I didn't pen my thoughts clearly enough that they'd reveal their support of the project.

The quote above where I mentioned the verbal bait-and-switch tactic of some software companies, I only wrote because I've had many conversations with people in the past that were confused about what an open standard was versus what open source software was. In general they were confused because some companies used that terminology to blur the difference between the two. I really don't think the Digital Standards Organization is guilty of that confusion at all. My only purpose in making that comment was to identify that they are two different issues, both of which merit consideration in their own rights.

Actually that was one of the main things that I thought was interesting about the Declaration… there are a decent number of vocal organizations for open source or free software but I'm not aware of the same sort of organizations vocalizing equivalent concerns for open standards.

-Josh

OpenOffice.org's John McCreesh tells us that the UK Prime Minister s Office has accepted an e-petition:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to adopt the Hague Declaration of the Digital Standards Organisation."

John says, "please encourage any of your supporters who are British citizens or residents to support this petition by voting online before 6th July at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/digistan"

An assistent of Italian MEP Marco Cappato (ALDE) contacted us with the news that an answer to a parliament question has arrived.

Cappato's question

Parliamentary questions
15 April 2008
E-2110/08
WRITTEN QUESTION by Marco Cappato (ALDE) to the Commission
Subject: Deployment of ISO 26300:2006
What steps will the Commission undertake to make its IT infrastructure fully compliant for the reception and propagation of ISO 26300:2006 documents?

Is any action planned to promote this standard in the European institutions?

Answer by Commissioner Kallas

E-2110/08EN
Answer given by Mr Kallas
on behalf of the Commission
(26.5.2008)

The Commission is currently able to accept and generate documents in the ISO 26300:2006 format (otherwise referred to and commonly known as the ODF format). The Commission wishes to be able to accept and generate documents compliant with different standardised formats (for example ISO standards PDF, ODF) as well as, whenever appropriate, in other widely used formats (ISO standards or not) currently used by citizens, businesses and public administrations.

The Commission has already presented to other European Institutions its technical approach to accept and generate documents in ODF formats.

Furthermore, within the framework of the Commission's IDABC programme, the Commission works with representatives of the Member States to promote and facilitate Open Document Exchange Formats (ODEF).

For more information, please see the reference site:
http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/3439/5585

In other words, the Commission already supports Open Document format and recommends other European Institutions to follow.

Josh Chalifour comments on Digistan: The IT Rights of Digistan

I've argued in the past that some software companies try to sound "open" while remaining proprietary by using a verbal bait-and-switch to change conversations from the topic of open source, to that of open standards. They're two very different issues.

His slight objections against the Digistan project is that open standards would be a compromise for non-adoption of free and open source software. The Hague declaration does indeed not call on Governments to adopt Free and open source software. Currently no pressure group calls aggressively for an exclusive free and open source software policy for the government. Ironically those governments which apply open source policies get active in open standards as well.

Digital open standards allow software providers to compete regardless of their business model. It is an inclusive concept aimed to move towards perfect competition and overcome the so-called lock-in effects.

Opposition against the concept of open standards follows basically three lines

  • vendors want to keep control over their interfaces and restrict competition
  • patent owners want to license interfaces and collect royalties
  • official standard organisations fear the loss of their semi-official status. Who calls for "openness" speaks about a performance based criteria that can or cannot be fulfilled by what these organisations provide.

These days the trunk in the room is of course patent licensing conditions: RAND, FRAND, RF. Standard organizations often keep an agnostic view and require only the bare minimum, i.e. "reasonable and non-discriminatory" (uniform fee) conditions. Under the existing software patent regimes it is a tricky legal challenge to indemnify standards from patent infringement or enforce interoperable RAND licensing conditions. Neither RAND nor RF licensing is sufficiently standardized, a problem of legal interoperability. Some widespread open source licenses are incompatible with RAND conditions and many (F)RAND licences are deliberately written to lock out open source competitors.

From the rationale of a market system and the public service objectives of a government it is obvious that a more competitive environment won't do any harm to the economy. On the contrary markets benefit. It is only necessary to overcome organisational egoisms. Governments are perfectly capable to make use of their procurement power to promote more openness.

Something that strikes me about Digistan’s declaration is its basis in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and not a technical document.

Chalifour points that rightfully out. The belief of the Digistan founders is that electronic access to public services needs to be non-discriminatory. It is our right as citizens that governments do not prejudice our technological choices. eGovernment is not just another channel but is an essential public service for administration, businesses and citizens. Governments have a public mission.

The IT Rights of Digistan by arebentiarebenti, 30 May 2008 12:20

Here Alex Brown acknowledges the need for special rulings:

ITTF are perfectly entitled to make special rulings (as they evidently have done, and not for the first time in this project) on the authority of the Secretaries General of ISO and IEC.

In any case there must be an institution which jumps in when procedures are unclear. However, it should be an institution like a civil court that has no stake in the process.

Thats pretty cool.

And on a side note, I'm going to watch the RSS feed for here and comment on news updates to show my support! :D

Yoon Kit Yong has transcribed the SABS letter.

We believe that there is an important question of principle involved and that the reputation of ISO/IEC is indeed at stake. There has been speculation about the need to revise the directives around fast track processing. While such revision might indeed be necessary, we cannot accept the outcome of a process which the existing directives have not, in our opinion, been applied.

Steve Pepper reports that:

"The South African national standards body, SABS, has appealed against the result of the OOXML DIS 29500 ballot in ISO. In a letter sent to the General Secretary of the IEC (co-sponsor with ISO of JTC1), the SABS expresses its “deep concern over the increasing tendency of international organizations to use the JTC 1 process to circumvent the consensus-building process that is the cornerstone to the success and international acceptance of ISO and IEC standards.”

Steve writes, "having resigned as Chairman of the Norwegian committee responsible for considering OOXML for exactly this reason, I congratulate South Africa on its willingness to stand up for the principles on which standardization work should be based."

In perhaps unrelated news, Microsoft announced that it would add ODF support to Office. Good news or bad news for free and open standards? Some have suggested that ODF is not completely safe from patent threats but this will become more clear over time.

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