Bonum Certa Men Certa

Is a Vote for OOXML (Office Open XML) as an ISO illegitimate?

The European Commission has just published the following document in a very timely fashion.

Egyedi, a researcher of technical standards, at the Technical University in Delft, the Netherlands, doubts whether ISO should have a taken into consideration a second standard for electronic documents at all. ISO approved the Open Document Format ODF in 2006, says Egyedi: "What are we to do with a second standard, which is overlapping the first? This conflicts with rules of the World Trade Organisation."

The standards specialist refers to the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which states that duplication or overlap should be avoided.


I could not help but recalling a discussion that I had a couple of months ago. The evidence that had been gathered by a friend (preferably unnamed until permission is granted) showed the very same thing, which we shall present here. It was never published anywhere. (Update: the evidence had been gathered by Russell Ossendryver of Fanaticattack, who sent me the following a few weeks ago and has just allowed me to reveal his identity)




There should be an immediate freeze on a vote put forth by the JTC 1



Microsoft's proposal that its Office Open XML specification become an International Standard is ineligible for further preparation as a standard on grounds that it would create an unnecessary obstacle to international trade.

“...OOXML as an ISO has become illegitimate and any vote on it should be placed on hold until all anti-trust litigations are resolved.”Microsoft wants this process to be "left to the experts" and that the discussion should be only technical in nature. But the whole point of the ISO status is economic in nature: ISO is first and foremost about lowering obstacles to trade. Microsoft's OOXML would RAISE obstacles to trade by giving ISO status to only one vendor: Microsoft.

In light of the compliant filed by the ECIS, BECTA filing a anti-trust complaint with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the UK, the calling of Microsoft to release information on the legacy formats into the public domain by NLnet, a Dutch foundation for an open information society because as it is, it hampers third-party development, OOXML as an ISO has become illegitimate and any vote on it should be placed on hold until all anti-trust litigations are resolved.

In the complaint by ECIS (European Committee for Interoperable Systems), Microsoft is alleged to have illegally refused to disclose interoperability information across a broad range of products, including information related to its Office suite, a number of its server products, and also in relation to the so called .NET Framework. The Commission’s examination will therefore focus on all these areas, including the question whether Microsoft’s new file format Office Open XML, as implemented in Office, is sufficiently interoperable with competitors’ products.”


WTO and ISO and the technical barriers of trade



The World Trade Organization (WTO) is the international organization dealing with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

ISO -- together with IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and ITU (International Telecommunication Union) -- has built a strategic partnership with WTO. The political agreements reached within the framework of WTO require underpinning by technical agreements. ISO, IEC and ITU, as the three principal organizations in international standardization, have the complementary scopes, the framework, the expertise and the experience to provide this technical support for the growth of the global market.

THE AGREEMENT ON TECHNICAL BARRIERS TO TRADE (TBT)



The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) [PDF] -- sometimes referred to as the Standards Code -- is one of the legal texts of the WTO Agreement which obliges WTO Members to ensure that technical regulations, voluntary standards and conformity assessment procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade.

THE CONTRIBUTION OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS AND CONFORMITY ASSESSMENT



The TBT Agreement recognizes the important contribution that international standards and conformity assessment systems can make to improving efficiency of production and facilitating international trade. Where international standards exist or their completion is imminent, therefore, the Code of Good Practice says that standardizing bodies should use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for standards they develop.

STANDARDIZING BODIES HAVING ACCEPTED THE WTO TBT CODE OF GOOD PRACTICE



The WTO TBT Standards Code Directory 2007 lists all standardizing bodies that have notified acceptance of the WTO TBT Code of Good Practice for the Preparation, Adoption and Application of Standards. The Directory, which is published annually, also contains the addresses of these standardizing bodies and information related to the availability of their work programmes.

OFFICE OPEN XML is not interoperatible


JTC 1 has the authority and responsibility to clarify whether interoperability is intended to be facilitated by each JTC 1 standard and ISP, to what or whom the interoperability applies, how conformity is related to the provision of interoperability, and how to verify that interoperability is provided between relevant IT systems.

Conclusion



There is enormous overlapping jurisdiction between national standardization body responsibilities and those of antitrust regulators. There is a pretty fair argument that JTC 1 should put DIS-29500 on ice until the antitrust proceeding is concluded, in order to avoid the possibility of inconsistent decisions. The NBs are actually required by the TBT to consider the potential anticompetitive effects of draft standards. Further, mostly based on the implementable and interoperatible factors of OOXML, it is clearly evident that only one company benefits, Microsoft. No ISO standard should benefit just one company. The JTC 1 has the responsibility to intervene.

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