Lobbyists clash over open standards in Europe

The Free Software Foundation Europe has launched a strong defence of open standards, after the Business Software Alliance tried to tell the European Commission that a preference for such specifications would 'undermine' innovation.The Commission is busy finishing off a revision of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), which is a set of recommendations as to how, technically speaking, citizens, governments and businesses should ideally be interoperating with one another.

The Free Software Foundation Europe has launched a strong defence of open standards, after the Business Software Alliance tried to tell the European Commission that a preference for such specifications would 'undermine' innovation.

The Commission is busy finishing off a revision of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), which is a set of recommendations as to how, technically speaking, citizens, governments and businesses should ideally be interoperating with one another. The FSFE has been lobbying for open standards to enjoy some degree of preference, while the BSA has been lobbying for proprietary standards.

In its letter to the Commission (PDF), dated 7 October, the BSA called for "an express endorsement of technologies made available on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms", rather than the preference for open specifications that apparently exists in the draft EIF revision.

The BSA said a tilt towards open specs would "undermine the innovativeness of European standards", adding that the recommendation suggested that such standards should be "free of intellectual property rights". The organisation also pointed to many technologies that are licensed on FRAND terms, such as Wi-Fi, GSM and MPEG.

The FSFE sent its own letter to the Commission on Friday, saying the BSA's letter showed "a gross misconception of standards, their role and their working".

"Zero-royalty licensing conditions do not prevent patented technologies to be included in standards," the group said. "Rather the contributor is required to avoid imposing running royalties on implementations. The single most successful technology platform on Earth, the internet, is built on standards that have been made fully available under zero-royalty licensing conditions. "

The FSFE said the BSA's quotation of Wi-Fi, GSM and MPEG was misleading, as these standards were irrelevant to the software debate. "This is an attempt to create a false dichotomy between 'commercial' companies inventing patented technology, in contrast to 'non-commercial' inventions which are not patented," the group said. "In reality a great wealth of unpatented modern technology originating in commercial companies constitute globally implemented standards (such as HTML5), whilst continuing to provide their creators with revenue."

The group said that, despite there being no economical or ideological divide between patented and unpatended technologies, the BSA was "divisively" implying the former was associated with "conventional and accepted business methods" and the latter with "un-businesslike non-commercial organisations".

The FSFE also argued against the BSA's characterisation of FRAND terms as being compatible with open source licences, pointing out that the most common such licences — GNU GPL and LGPL, Mozilla Public Licence, Apache Public Licence, BSD/MIT and EUPL — were almost all incompatible with a system based on patent royalties.

"In the light of the above considerations, we urge the Commission to encourage interoperability and competition in the European software market, rather than giving incumbent dominant companies an additional lever to maintain their control of the market," the FSFE said.

"To this end, we ask the Commission not to add an endorsement of FRAND licensing policies for software standards. Instead, we urge the Commission to maintain the recommendation that specifications can be considered only open if they can be implemented and shared under different software licensing models, including Free Software licensed under the GNU GPL."

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