FSF Fights BSA Over EC Support For Open Standards
The Free Software Foundation has accused the BSA of sabotaging the EC’s support for open standards
The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has accused the Business Software Alliance (BSA) of pressuring the European Commission (EC) to abandon its support for open standards.
The FSFE, which promotes open source and open standards, weighed in the BSA, which represents companies such as Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Dell and HP, wrote to the EC urging it to water down its endorsement of open specifications, arguing such a stance would put patented technology at a disadvantage in public sector contracts.
BSA sets up a ‘false dichotomy’
The letter concerned a section of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), a set of interoperability guidelines currently under revision by the EC. A draft version of the revision contains a statement that “open specifications” have a “positive effect on interoperability” and are “encouraged for European public service delivery”.
The BSA letter, published by the FSFE, argued that this language could be unwelcoming to patent holders. The section is “ambiguous and could be read to mean that the most innovative European and foreign companies are not welcome to participate in standards processes if they own patents in the relevant technologies and seek compensation for their inventions if those patents are made part of the standard”.
The BSA’s letter urged the EC to amend the EIF to include an endorsement of patented technologies which are made available on fair, reasonable and non-discriminator (FRAND) terms. This will “allow European innovators who own patents and other intellectual property (IP) to participate in standards setting”, the BSA stated.
The Free Software Foundation has reacted strongly, saying that to endorse FRAND-licensed intellectual property would “remove the last vestiges of support for open standards” from the EIF.
“Open Standards, which can be implemented in Free Software, are key to interoperability in Europe,” the group said in a statement. “This is an attempt to create a false dichotomy between ‘commercial’ companies inventing patented technology, in contrast to ‘non-commercial’ inventions which are not patented.”
Decades of lock-in
FSFE president Karsten Gerloff urged the EC not to bow to pressure from the BSA, and stand up for the use of commercial-strength free softeare.
“We trust that the European Commission won’t be swayed by such a blunt attempt to capture the European Software market for a single interest group”, Gerloff stated. Other groups, including the European Committee for Interopable Systems (ECIS) and Open Forum Europe, also urged the EC not to water down the EIF section on open standards.
The Commission has vowed to adopt the EIF before the end of the year.
In June Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice-president for the Digital Agenda, called on governments to embrace open standards, after criticising the waste and lock-in associated with some proprietary technologies.
“Many authorities have found themselves unintentionally locked into proprietary technology for decades,” Kroes said at the time. “After a certain point that original choice becomes so ingrained that alternatives risk being systematically ignored, no matter what the potential benefits. This is a waste of public money that most public bodies can no longer afford.”