Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Open Standards and IP (Redux)

A simple question: should an "open standard" have any proprietary elements in it?

If this sounds like the start of an extremist, anti-business rant on standards (and vendors), let me re-phrase the question ...

Should development of a standard begin with the business considerations of a company or the technical need to ensure interoperability and unfettered use in any future products by any person or company?

I ask this question with no axe to grind. I work for no vendor. I have no equity stake in any standards or company promoting them.

If you think the idea of open standards being standards with no proprietary elements is heretical or simply some Platonic ideal divorced from reality, consider this ...

We are moving in that direction already, though slowly.

The fact that interoperability is becoming the touchstone for any standards discussion is a positive sign. Governments--the largest set of technology consumers--are starting to assert their interests (the public interest) in both interoperability and avoiding permanent lock-in any one technology or vendor.

Companies are beginning to loosen (though not legally liberate) standards from their intellectual property claims. That is another positive step. Latest news on that front: IBM's "patent pledge" to grant universal access to hundreds of patents related to web services and SOA.

IBM's decision is laudable, but not ideal. It sends an important message to the market: let innovation reign, and don't worry about us suing. It does not remove IBM's legal right to assert control. It just offers the world a partial, unilateral IP disarmament. That is a good thing, and more than most big IT companies have done.

When it comes to open standards, proprietary anything creates barriers. A pledge to not assert ownership to a standard removes one proprietary barrier (litigation). It does not remove all proprietary barriers.

Why should I have to talk about products to have a discussion of an open standard?

Why should I be forced to consider (or enter) a business relationship with any single company when I consider using an open standard?

Why should an open standard come with any strings (or chains) attached?

The answer is, it shouldn't.

Open standards should be agnostic to products and companies and business models and ... IP.

[Image: Pandora's Chains - CalTech]

Categories: interoperability, openstandards, IP

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