The EU Commission´s long expected White Paper on ICT standardization has finally been published. The proposal (“Modernizing ICT Standardization in the EU- The Way Forward”) suggests an update of Council Decision 87/95/EEC which lays down the current EU standardization policy in the field of ICT.
The Commission argues that EU needs to take action to avoid being marginalized in the ICT standardization process at the global level. This would be particularly problematic for Europe as ICT has become a predominant European industry; in 2007 it had a turnover of € 670 billion and accounted for over 5 percent of total employment. In addition, the landscape for standardizations has changed dramatically over the last decade – adding to the need of reform.
The Commission suggests that the current system should be updated in several areas, mainly to allow for a more integrated approach in ICT standardization and to strengthen competitiveness and fair competition – as well as collaboration and cooperation – in development and implementation of ICT standards (see e.g. the Commission´s Press release).
In order to assure the use of the best available standards the Commission suggests that the following should be reflected in the development process and the standards themselves:
• openness during the development of new standards;
• transparency in the technical discussion
• public availability (for a reasonable fee).
The white paper argues for possible synergies between ICT research, innovation and standardization. Currently, many ICT R&D projects produce highly relevant results but unfortunately these are often insufficiently translated into concrete applications. The Commission suggests that a more frequent consultation of standardization and research stakeholders to assure that all relevant R&D is implemented in actual production and, ultimately, consumed goods and services.
Interoperability in ICT has become critical as industries and countries grow ever more globally interconnected, as a result the treatment of intellectual property rights (IPR) is especially delicate in this field. Intellectual property (IP) needs to be properly protected; meanwhile standards should not lead to a restriction in competition. Therefore, the Commission suggests a flexible system for compensation to be used by standards developing organizations. This system should ensure the effectiveness of procedures for IPR disclosures but is not to inhibit competition among different business models. The suggested system could also provide transparency and predictability by declaring restrictive licensing terms and royalty rates before the adoption of a standard.
The Commission further suggests that standards from fora and consortia can be recognized alongside European Standardization Organizations (ESOs). It is explicitly recognized that in some domains the expertise lies with fora and consortia and not with ESOs. Closer co-operation would produce standards more effectively and facilitate interaction with major trading partners.
The white paper marks the start of a thorough process of updating Council Decision 85/97/EEC. The Commission´s proposal is based on the fundamental idea that ICT standards should be developed in co-operation between all involved parties. This principle could prove to be of particular importance for the European ICT industry´s global competitiveness in the future.
Initial reactions to the Commission’s proposal have been positive. OpenForum Europe writes in a press release: “Regarding the recommendations in detail, OFE strongly supports the proposed modernization of European standardization policy”. Other approving opinions can be heard in various blogs, Jochen Friedrich for example writes: “This white paper responds to urgent needs of many stakeholders [and] deserves strong support”.
The Commission invites public consultation on its proposal by September 15 (http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/consultations/index_en.htm#open). Time will tell if the public response will remain positive.