Cabinet Office: no lobby influence on open standards

The government has launched a consultation to replace last year's 'royalty-free' definition of open standards for government IT, while denying accusations that this is due to Microsoft and BSA lobbying

The government has launched a consultation on the definition of 'open standards' for government IT, while denying claims that lobbying from proprietary software vendors led to the withdrawal of an earlier official definition.

The consultation was launched on Thursday, and will focus on the definition of open standards for software interoperability, data, and document formats.

"There's a lot of strong opinion on this subject — so I'm urging people to take this opportunity and let us know what they think," Cabinet Office director for ICT futures Liam Maxwell said in a statement on Thursday.

The government established a definition for open standards (PDF) in January 2011. A Cabinet Office procurement policy note defined open standards as having "intellectual property made irrevocably available on a royalty free basis." This definition was formally withdrawn in November 2011.

Technology publication ComputerWeekly said in January it had unearthed evidence that Microsoft and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) had successfully pressurised the UK government into withdrawing its January 2011 definition of open standards, which would have been favourable to open source vendors.

The Cabinet Office on Thursday denied that Microsoft and BSA lobbying had affected its position.

"Whilst this consultation process is still ongoing it is inappropriate to have a definition of open standards," a Cabinet Office spokesman told ZDNet UK in an email exchange. "No lobbying has taken place (from any organisation) that has affected our approach in creating an open standards definition that works for government."

The government ran an informal consultation on open standards as an online survey between February and May 2011, and said on Thursday that the survey led to it deciding to start a formal consultation.

"The previous survey was very helpful, but when the full review of responses was completed in November it became clear that there were still some points that needed clarity," said the Cabinet Office spokesman.

Open Source Consortium chair Gerry Gavigan told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the debate hinged on whether open standards should be defined as royalty free, as pushed for by open source vendors, or offered under "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" use, which would allow for assertion of patents and be favourable to proprietary software vendors.

Gavigan said he had not personally seen Microsoft and BSA lobbying affecting government policy, but questioned why the government had withdrawn its definition of open standards as being royalty free.

"Mysteriously last year the government formally withdrew its definition of open standards," said Gavigan.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that the government was "committed to implementing open standards and want to create a level playing field for open source and proprietary software."

"Open standards for software and systems will reduce costs and enable us to provide better public services," Maude said in a statement. "We want to get this right; so we want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to have their say on this matter."

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