Bonum Certa Men Certa

Lessons Not Learned From Microsoft's OOXML Scam

Joaquin Almunia
Photo by Agência Brasil



Summary: A back door to software patents is left open by the competition commissioner, who would be wiser to forbid FRAND-encumbered standards

Joaquín Almunia, the Vice President of the European Commission in charge of competition policy (some background in [1, 2]), is promoting FRAND in his new speech. This is an implicit endorsement of software patents inside standards. From the transcript we have:

Standards and Protocols

When it comes to standards some minimum requirements must be met to ensure that the positive effects of standardisation can fully materialise. We have identified these requirements in the Commission’s draft guidelines on horizontal agreements which include an extensive discussion of standardisation.

The starting point is transparency: if technology is to be incorporated into a standard, then participants that own intellectual property that covers that technology should disclose their ownership. Without transparency, efficient decisions cannot be made.

For a standard to serve its purpose there should be a commitment to license on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms. If so called “FRAND commitments” have been given, they should be adhered to. Moreover, those standardisation bodies that require full disclosure of the proposed terms and conditions of licensing can be assured that they will not infringe EU competition law by doing so.


Permitting FRAND is not a good idea. It permits more of the same abuse of bodies like ISO, on which Microsoft dumped patent traps. There was also the controversial process around MPEG, which essentially helped create another patent troll [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6].

ISO allowed itself to be abused in this way and action is taken in response to Microsoft's sheer abuse. It is far too little, far too late (over two years late). Jan Wildeboer says: "One can see this as admitting the process of OOXML standardisation was flawed."

Here is how Rob Weir put it:

ISO/IEC JTC1 Revises Directives, Addresses OOXML Abuses



[...]

First, we see the elimination of the contradiction phase in Fast Track processing. If you recall, under previous rules, a Fast Track begin with a 30-day NB review period, sometimes called the “contradiction period”, where NBs were invited to raise objections if they think the Fast Track proposal contradicts an existing ISO or IEC standard. This was followed by a 5-month ballot. The problem was that the word “contradiction” was not defined, leading to various irreconcilable interpretations. In the case of OOXML 20 JTC1 National Bodies (NBs) raised contradictions. Evidently, the passage of time has lead to no progress on defining what exactly a contradiction is, so the contradiction period has been eliminated entirely. Instead, looking for “evident contradictions” (still undefined) is given to JTC1 administrative staff, which is the surest way of guaranteeing that we never hear of contradictions again. The Fast Track DIS ballot remains at 5-months, so net-net this accelerates processing by one month.

Next, we see some clarification around how NBs should vote on Fast Tracks. Back, during the OOXML ballot, Microsoft made a huge effort to convince NBs to vote “Yes with comments” if they found serious flaws in the text, with the promise that they would all be addressed at the BRM. Well, we now know that this was a big lie. Very few issues were actually discussed and resolved at the BRM. And most of them were addressed by merely saying, “Sorry, no change”. At the time I argued that the rules were quite clear, that disapproval should be voiced by a “No, with comments” vote. Well, we now see another small slice of vindication.

[...]

Another change is that if the DIS ballot fails to get sufficient votes, meaning less than 2/3 approval of ISO/IEC JTC1 P-members, or more than 25% disapproval overall, the proposal dies at that point. It doesn’t go on to the BRM. Game over. If this rule had been in place back in 2007, OOXML would not be an ISO standard today.


OOXML is a patent trap with RAND and it is also a proprietary format which nobody implements as it cannot be implemented. What the European Commission ought to do is stick to abolishment of software patents and perhaps an exclusion ZRAND. There is enough time for this to be done.

Comments

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