Several interesting themes can be expected in the European Commission’s forthcoming White Paper on ICT standardisation. This was evident after a speech by Anne Lehouk, Principal Administrator at the European Commission, at the Talk Standards event in Brussels today.
Let me summarize some of the key messages that I picked up from Mme Lehouk’s presentation.
First, I noted that the Commission has identified a need to reform European standardization policy for several reasons, including the fact that the policy should be adjusted to accommodate to the particular characteristics of standardization in the ICT sector. It was also mentioned that European standardization has been taken over by international standardization. Presumably Europe therefore needs to take action to regain the initiative.
Second, a major policy objective of the European Commission is to facilitate coordination and engagement of all stakeholders in ICT standardization. Tentatively the Commission is proposing a platform with vendors, users, SSOs and other stakeholders where priorities and standardization work can be discussed (based on the experiences from a previous, less ambitious forum for discussion). In my opinion this sounds like a significant practical challenge and it remains to be seen how this forum will work in practice. It could also be added that coordination at the international level will still be an issue.
Third, a major theme of the Commission’s approach to ICT standardization has to do with the benefits of combining the advantages of formal European standardization and the technical competences of informal fora and consortia. According to the current thinking at the Commission, the tentative proposal is to keep three formally recognized European Standardization Organizations (ESOs) but in addition permit governments and public authorities to recognize specific standards from informal consortia and fora, when no European standard exist. More generally, the Commission is interested in extending the possibility to use global standards that are important but, nevertheless, not easily referenced within the current European standard policy. The Commission is also insisting that the cooperation between formal and informal standardization organizations must be improved.
Fourth, the Commission is committed to recognizing the principle that the policy governing licensing of IPR is an issue that is best dealt with by standard setting organizations and ultimately IPR holders. FRAND is the natural starting point. Maintaining some licensing flexibility for the holders of IPR is recommended. The Commission is not ruling the possibility that disclosure of IPR can be improved, e.g. through better cooperation with various patent offices.
Fifth, public procurement will be based on the principle that public agencies and government bodies should choose the best solution. The policy should be sufficiently flexible to allow procuring agencies to choose the alternative that has a perfect fit with their existing systems.
Finally, the Commission will not impose any restrictions on the use of innovations and know-how developed by private companies. Firms have to decide how to best use their technology and whether to bring innovations to standards or not.
My general assessment is that the Commission is taking a pragmatic and flexible view on ICT standardization. The value of the current system with multiple formal and informal standardization organizations is explicitly recognized. So are the benefits of a system of IPR licensing based on FRAND. I think we can look forward to an interesting discussion when the White Paper is eventually published and the period of public consultation begins.