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<title>FSFE's submission to the UK Open Standards Consultation 2012</title>
<meta content="Definition of Open Standards, with comment on emerging standards and links to other definitions." name="description" />
<meta content="Open standards certified open European interoperability framework SELF EU Project Geneva Declaration on Standards Future of the Internet Document Freedom Day Definition Emerging Standards FSFE pdf" name="keywords" />
<p id="category"><a href="">Our Work</a> / <a href="/projects/os/os.html">Overview of Open Standards</a></p>
<h1>Submission to UK Open Standards Consultation 2012</h1>
<div id="introduction">
<p>This is FSFE's submission to the <a href="">UK Open Standards Consultation</a>, held by the ICT Futures team in Cabinet Office, submitted on 1st June 2012.</p>
<h2>Chapter 1</h2>
<h3>1. How does this definition of open standard compare to your view of what makes a standard 'open'?</h3>
<h4>What exactly is a "government body"?</h4>
<p>FSFE supports the content of the proposed definition, but some details in wording still have to be clarified, in order to ensure that the policy can be implemented effectively: </p>
<blockquote> 1. Government bodies must consider open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats and in procurement specifications should require solutions that comply with open standards, unless there are clear, documented business reasons why this is inappropriate.</blockquote>
<p>First, it is not clear what is meant by a “government body”. We fear that in the end just a small subset of public bodies will be covered by this term, and consequently by the policy.</p>
<p>Software and in particular document formats are subject to strong network effects, and one government body using proprietary formats might cause problems for many others using formats based on Open Standards.If an Open Standards policy is to be effective, it needs to address the largest possible set of organisations. We therefore propose to use “Public bodies or private bodies exercising public functions” instead of “government bodies”.</p>
<p>Furthermore, it is not clear from the available policy documents which public bodies will be within the scope of the policy. According to information provided by Cabinet Office representative Linda Humphries in a meeting on Open Standards and Leveling the Playing Field on May 29, 2012, the policy would only apply to central government bodies, not local governments or other government bodies. She also remarked that the G-Cloud Strategy would not be covered by the policy.</p>
<p>This limited reach would severely constrain the effectiveness of the policy, and heavily curtail the benefits it will provide. Local authorities, the education and health sectors, and a plethora of other public bodies will continue to be locked into overpriced, proprietary solutions, and lack guidance and support from central government to build vendor-independent IT systems. Small and medium IT companies will continue to be excluded from most of the public-sector market, as public-sector IT spending will remain heavily concentrated on a small number of large systems integrators.</p>
<p>These problems will be even more severe where the G-Cloud is concerned. If this central service is built on anything else than Open Standards, this will compound the current set of problems (concentrated procurement, vendor lock-in, amplified by network effects, leading to a lack of competition) for the entire UK public sector, and make it even more difficult for public bodies to pursue IT strategies which are orientated towards long-term sustainability and value for money. Given the network effects described above, the policy will only be effective if a broad set of government bodies are compelled to move to Open Standards.</p>
<p>Procurement teams will also require training in dealing with legacy software solutions, and breaking free from vendor lock-in. Without a proactive effort by the government, widespread vendor lock-in will all but guarantee the policy's failure.</p>
<p>The proposed "comply or explain" approach is largely suitable. However, we strongly recommend that compliance should be determined, and explanations provided, *before* the procurement actually proceeds. Once tenders are published and contracts are signed, corrections and alternative approaches are infinitely harder to implement.</p>
<p>Therefore, we propose the following wording:</p>
<blockquote> 1. [Public bodies or private bodies exercising public functions] must [use] open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats and in procurement specifications should require solutions that comply with open standards, unless there are clear, documented business reasons why this is inappropriate. </blockquote>
<p>It should however be made very clear that the fact that an organisation is currently subject to vendor lock-in on account of its use of proprietary formats is not a "clear, documented business reason" to refuse adopting Open Standards. UKG should provide education and assistance for overcoming the obstacles of current vendor lock-in to public bodies and private bodies exercising public functions.</p>
<p>This provides a strong impulse for change in line with the intent of the policy, while still preserving an option for those public bodies which are for some reason unable (rather than merely unwilling) to move to Open Standards.</p>
<h4>Licensing of patents in standards</h4>
<p>In </p>
<blockquote> 2. For the purpose of UK Government software interoperability, data and document formats, the definition of open standards is those standards which fulfill the following criteria: [...]</blockquote>
<p>FSFE sees problems in the following part of the definition:</p>
<blockquote>owners of patents essential to implementation have agreed to license these on a royalty free and non-discriminatory basis for implementing the standard and using or interfacing with other implementations which have adopted that same standard. Alternatively, patents may be covered by a non-discriminatory promise of non-assertion.</blockquote>
<p>Royalty-free (and restriction-free) licensing of patents contained in standards is the norm in IT, and more so in software standardisation. In software, so-called "FRAND" ("Fair, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory) licensing of patents necessary to implementing a standard puts the patent holder in control of an entire product category, and is therefore inimical to competition and innovation in the market.</p>
<p>In particular, FRAND licensing is incompatible with the most widely used Free Software licenses, such as the GNU General Public License. Even in a hypothetical approach where patent royalty rates would be set to zero, the patent holder (usually a large corporation) would still be able to refuse a patent license to a Free Software project, or impose conditions which effectively prevent the project from implementing the standard. Even though recourse through the legal system might be available in theory, in practice the Free Software developers (often small companies) will rarely have the required resources to confront a multinational corporation in court.</p>
<p>It is therefore essential that UKG insists that patents included in standards for software are made available to any interested party without licensing fees or restrictions.</p>
<h3>2. What will the Government be inhibited from doing if this definition of open standards is adopted for software interoperability, data and document formats across central government?</h3>
<p>If the Government adopts a definition of Open Standards along the lines of what we propose in response to question 1, this would greatly increase the freedom of action which public bodies and private bodies exercising public functions - enjoy.</p>
<p>The only restriction they would suffer is that they would no longer be at liberty to lock themselves into proprietary formats owned by a single vendor; this can only be considered a good thing. In cases where there is currently no Open Standard available, or where it is not feasible to use, the policy provides sufficient alternative options ("comply or explain", which should be a step taken before a public body releases a call for tender.)</p>
<p>If, however, application of the policy is restricted to central government alone, this will lead to severe interoperability problems with the rest of the UK's public sector, which remains mired in vendor lock-in. We recommend that UKG should take a bolder stance, apply the policy as widely as possible, and take steps to enable all public sector organisations to implement it.</p>
<h3>3. For businesses attempting to break into the government IT market, would this policy make things easier or more difficult – does it help to level the playing field?</h3>
<p>Adopting the proposed policy including FSFE's amendments (see Question 1) would be a significant step towards leveling the playing field. Today, 60% of revenue from central government contracts goes to only 10 or so systems integrators. It is not acceptable for the government to pick winners in this fashion. </p>
<p>The policy, if implemented in full, will be an important step towards opening the UK's public sector IT market to competition. A comprehensive Open Standards policy would greatly lower the bar for UK businesses, in particular smaller ones, to compete for government contracts. In addition, Open Standards naturally circumvent vendor lock-in and therefore guarantee the freedom of choice for future government procurement and a vivid competition inside the government IT market.</p>
<timestamp>$Date: 2012-04-21 17:12:14 +0200 (Sat, 21 Apr 2012) $ $Author: samtuke $</timestamp>
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