Holders of zero-tolerance positions on both sides of the divide need to realise that accommodating open sourceproductively inside standards bodies is both viable and happening now.
You’ll recall that open source and open standards are orthogonal concepts where even the words they share (like “open”) are defined differently. That doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive, nor that they are bad together – they can be cultivated well in the same garden. There is great value from accommodating the two orthogonal concepts so that neither is invalidated by non-mandatory elements of the other. When they combine, great value is unleashed.
Why accommodating open source at a standards body is like growing blueberries.
Fresh-from-the-bush blueberries are one of the good things of life. When I set up my home office about a decade ago, I had to install an underground conduit to supply essential services — power, water, network — and dug a deep trench all along the path that leads there. When I refilled the trench I decided to plant a blueberry hedge so looked into how to grow good blueberries.
How similar are open source development and standards development? Not at all, and even the words they have in common mean different things in each.
It is often asserted that open source and open standards are in some way similar. For example, in the accompanying letter to a recent submission to the European Commission, a major European-based technology company that is very active is standardisation said:
The open source network effect depends on unrestricted software freedoms. Licensing & business models that restrict those freedoms aren’t seeking the open source effect – or if they are they will fail – so calling a policy, product or company that does so “open source” is false advertising.
A focus solely on open source legal and licensing matters as they affect companies creates bad outcomes — for leaders and their advisers who are surprised by community and market reactions, and for developers who feel abused and betrayed by “open source companies” and “government initiatives” that actually put obstacles in their path rather than remove them. While the minutiae of open source licensing and governance need to be understood and accommodated, it’s vital to never lose sight of the open source effect itself.
The largest forces in technology today – consumer-facing companies like Google and Facebook, business-facing companies like Salesforce, now even first-gen tech corporations like Microsoft and IBM – all increasingly depend on open source software. That means collaborative inter-company development of the software components and infrastructure technology these enterprises use for their business success. It’s enabled by the safe space created when they use their IP in a new way – to ensure an environment for collaboration where the four essential freedoms of software are guaranteed. Continue reading →
The European Commission has been persuaded by lobbyists to change its position on standards to permit the use of FRAND license terms for patents applicable to technologies within those standards. This is a massive mistake that will harm innovation by chilling open source community engagement.
I participated in a study asking about the fairness, reasonableness and non-discriminatory nature of FRAND licensing in the context of licensing of patents in standards. I was surprised to find people there asserting there was no conflict between FRAND licensing and open source software. Here’s a simple explanation why that’s wrong.
Since patent licensing is by definition bilateral, and since open source communities that aren’t run by a single vendor are by definition multi-lateral, any standard which includes patents that require licensing discriminates against true multi-participant open source implementation. By definition, patent licensing as a precondition of implementation of a standard cannot ever be non-discriminatory. Even zero-fee licensing is discriminatory as it still requires implementers to seek permission, the antithesis of open source.
Showing that no issue is actually sorted until the end of the process is reached, Microsoft is trying to get its partner network to speak up for OOXML as a document format for government interaction. In a posting to ComputerWorldUK, Simon explains that this would defeat the objective explained by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who said
“The software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies. A tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace. I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software.”
So ODF Advocates once again need to speak up for openness and diversity – there are links in the article.
In InfoWorld today, Simon challenges the assertion some are making that Google’s sale of Motorola after such a short time is a sign of failure. Noting all the gains Google has made, both financial and strategic, he suggests actually the deal is both profitable and clever. Certainly it’s a deal for its time, focussing mainly on triaging the negative consequences of a patent system designed for an industrial age being misapplied to the meshed society. Read all about it.