Open Source and Standardisation

Open Source and Standardisation

If you are an owner of an open source technology or use it to develop applications that are part of an international standard, you may be interested in a growing debate around a recent EU communication - ICT Standardisation Priorities for the Digital Single Market published this week. Uninspiring the title may be, but the paper is worth a read.

The thrust of the early discussion is around FRAND. Never heard of it? The acronym stands for Fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (or RAND in the US). It is the basis upon which the owner of an intellectual property right might license that IP to provide a service or product that is covered by an agreed standard. As a large part of the media and broadcast technology sector is underpinned by standards that are honed and agreed by industry stakeholders, often over many years, it is worth understanding what is planned.

An ARS Technica article published this week focusses on the apparent contradiction between “restriction free licensing” of open source material and the EU proposed application of FRAND. For me the issue is a bigger one.

Having worked with teams on broadcast standards groups, I know the time they can take, the challenge of reconciling disparate interests and the difficulty of balancing the cost of IP and getting the standard right. Time consuming, often costly, they sometimes feel a barrier to getting things done and agreed; but necessary, certainly. The context for the EU initiative is around Cloud, Data, Cyber-security, 5G communications networks and IoT (Internet of Things) and notes on the last one, that there are “already more than 600 closely related standards”.

If, as the paper states, increasing complexity and the proliferation of standards can slow down innovation, I am left wondering how greater EU involvement is going to speed it up, however well intentioned. If they succeed they are to be applauded, but as the ARS Technica article debate highlights, there are some stakeholders that suggest it is not going to be an easy journey.

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Last modified on 21 April 2016
Mike Cronk

Mike Cronk is a media technology leader with track record in business change and programme delivery.