EU standards reform: Carte blanche stifles open formats

By EDRi · February 29, 2012

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Deutsch: [Reform europäischer Normen: Blankovollmacht bremst offene Formate aus |]

The European standardisation system is being revamped. In the European
Parliament, the Consumer Committee (IMCO) under its rapporteur Lara Comi
(EPP, Italy) is deliberating a proposal from the European Commission.
Parliament members face tricky regulatory decisions on the standardisation
of services and participation of small enterprises.

These issues overshadow a ground-breaking novelty: an official “recognition”
for specifications from private sector consortia in the field of information
and communication technologies (ICT). Those “recognised ICT specifications”
are not “standards” (developed by standards organisations) but still could
be legally referenced by tenders for public procurement.

For an “recognition”, ICT specifications have to meet quite unambitious
requirements laid down in an Annex. Their development has to adhere to
minimum trade rules from the World Trade Organisation Technical Barriers to
Trade agreement, and essential patents for a specification would be made
available under “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” (FRAND) terms by
their holders. FRAND is not legally defined but usually these licensing
terms require payment of a royalty to a patent holder, and exclude Free and
Open Source software implementations.

In Europe a carte blanche recognition of ICT specifications may compromise
the negotiating position of public procurement agencies for better, open
formats. It would weaken the more ambitious openness spirit of the European
Interoperability Strategy (EIS) and various existing laws, schemes and
initiatives at the national level.

How to separate the wheat from the chaff? The Foundation for a Free
Information Infrastructure (FFII) advocates for the setting a “gold
standard”: Limiting the new privileged recognition to royalty-free open
formats, without any discrimination of the development model. In the digital
world this openness dominates. Open formats such as HTML are at the heart of
the Internet.

European Standardisation 2011/0150(COD)

IMCO draft report of Lara Comi (EPP)

IMCO amendments (66-276)

European Commission proposal COM(2011) 315 final

FFII: European Standardisation Reform lowers the bar (10.02.2012)

(contribution by André Rebentisch)