EU holds firm on “open standard”, US firms go ballistic

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”.