BSA Criticizes EUs Open Standards Policy

In an open letter to the European Commission, the director of the Business Software Alliance asked the European Commission to loosen restrictions on the "open standards" required for a pan-European interoperability initiative.

The Business Software Alliance is lobbying the European Commission to loosen restrictions on the "open standards" required for a pan-European interoperability initiative, the latest such program to face industry resistance.

In an open letter to the European Commission released publicly on Wednesday, Benoît Müller, the BSAs director of European software policy, said the ECs strict definition of open standards in the European Interoperability Framework for Pan-European eGovernment Services, or EIF, would prove to be counterproductive because it would exclude such widely recognized standards as DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol), 802.1X and even the cell phone technology GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications). Müller also said the framework shouldnt imply a link between open-source software and open standards.

The EIF is the reference document guiding the European Union as it establishes intergovernmental networks; its recommendations guide pan-European programs and also influence the policies of EU member states. It is one of a number of similar government programs around the world intended to encourage the use of open standards so as to promote interoperability and free governments from dependence on a single vendor.

Massachusetts, for example, has a policy intended to mandate the use of open standards and open file formats, although the state recently reached an agreement with Microsoft allowing Office 2003 file formats to be defined as "open" for the purposes of the scheme.

The BSAs main objection to the EIF is that it requires a standard to be "irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis" and impose no constraints on "re-use." Such restrictions dont allow standards that, for example, rely on patents for which a royalty may be charged, according to Müller. Most standards organizations, including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the International Organization for Standardization, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the International Telecommunication Union, allow standards to include patented technology as long as the patent owner licenses the patent claims on reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms, he said.

"We are concerned that by defining open standards in this way, the Commission will actually exclude many standards essential to achieving interoperability, and the initiative will prove to be counterproductive," Müller said in an interview with "Wed like it to be revised to be in line with reality—with the practices of the major standards organizations."

The use of patented technology in standards is a matter of controversy within standards bodies, Müller acknowledged; it derailed the process of standardizing the Sender ID anti-spam system last year, for example. But the use of patented technology in standards is "the reality today," he said.

The BSA also criticized positive remarks about open-source software in the EIF, saying the document confuses open standards with the open-source development model. "Open source and open standards are two very distinct concepts. It is a false assertion to say open standards must be implemented in open source," Müller said. Open-source advocates argue that open-source products, which arent tied to a single commercial company, naturally tend to promote the use of open standards.

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The BSA wants the Commission to remove a statement that open-source products should be "considered favorably" with respect to proprietary alternatives, and replace it with a statement encouraging "neutral" software procurement policies, Müller said.

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