The Standards Blog

IBM's New "I.T.Standards Policy" - and a Call for Wider Reform

Open Source/Open Standards

Although most of the thunder of the OOXML adoption battle has now died away, the after effects of that controversial process continue to linger.  Some of the residual effects have been intangible, such as hard feelings on the part of at least four National Bodies over their inability to obtain a formal review of their complaints over how the OOXML adoption process was conducted.  But there have been other responses that are more concrete, and directed at taking specific actions to raise the bar and avoid a repeat performance.  One of those efforts has been ongoing since late last spring, and today the first tangible results of that effort are being made public.

The process in question was a Wiki-based conversation conducted over a six week period last May and June, involving over 70 government, academic, industry, policy and standards body thought leaders from around the world.  And the public parts include the release of the results of that conversation, and the announcement by IBM of a new "I.T. Standards Policy" that will regulate its participation in standards development.  That policy is based upon the principles developed in the course of that virtual global conversation.  These announcements are the beginning, but not the end, of a dialogue.  The next step will be an invitation-only event at Yale University in November that could give rise, among other possibilities, to  a new global organization to rate standards development organizations for qualities such as openness and transparency.

The IBM policy can be found here, and a summary of the recommendations of that discussion is here, and I'll discuss both of them below (as usual, I've also pasted in the full text of each below, for archival purposes).  Let's start with the IBM Policy, and then I'll give some background on the Wiki discussion, and highlight some of the recommendations that arose from the combined opinions and debate of the group.

IBM I.T. Standards Policy:  The IBM policy sets forth a pledge of future conduct for IBM in its very substantial standards-related conduct, which includes the deployment of thousands of engineers in the working groups of hundreds of consortia and traditional, accredited standards organizations around the world, from narrow, single-standards-focused consortia up through ISO and the IEC.  That conduct will be based upon IBM's pronounced support for:

[T]the consistent and fair application of standards development practices for all stakeholders, whether they be consumer, governmental, commercial, or open source, in emerging and mature economies alike.

That litany honors the fact that not all of these groups are currently adequately represented in the standards development process, though all are profoundly affected.  In pursuit of the goal of improving that process, IBM confirms that it "does now, and will continue" to adhere to a list of principles in order to assure that its participation in the standards development process will be conducted "with integrity, innovation and good faith." 

Read closely, these principles will have concrete, rather than merely aspirational meaning, including joining - and resigning - from standards organizations based not only on their technical value to IBM, but also on whether they conform to the same principles of openness in membership and intellectual property rights (IPR) policies.  The principles would also mean that IBM would push for more global participation in standard setting, work for rules reform to avoid undue influence by vendors, push for ensuring that open standards will be set under policies that will ensure that they can be implemented in open source software, and regularize and optimize IPR policies themselves.  Specifically,The principles of the new policy are as follows:

  • Begin or end participation in standards bodies based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies. 
  • Encourage emerging and developed economies to both adopt open global standards and to participate in the creation of those standards.
  • Advance governance rules within standards bodies that ensure technology decisions, votes, and dispute resolutions are made fairly by independent participants, protected from undue influence.
  • Collaborate with standards bodies and developer communities to ensure that open software interoperability standards are freely available and implementable.
  • Help drive the creation of clear, simple and consistent intellectual property policies for standards organizations, thereby enabling standards developers and implementers to make informed technical and business decisions.

The policy also gives examples of specific actions that IBM pledges to take in active pursuit of the goals cited, a few of which clearly are intended to make the conduct alleged to have occurred during the OOXML process more difficult to carry out in the future, such as working "for process reform in standards organizations so that proxies or surrogates cannot be used in standards creation and approval."

While IBM's standards activities are formidible, IBM still controls only one vote within any single standards organization.  As a result, it will be significant to see whether it is successful in inspiring other companies (and particularly those that were its allies in the ODF-OOXML competition, such as Google and Oracle) to make statements of active support for these same principles.

Updated:  Bob Sutor, the driving force behind this announcement at IBM, has now posted a blog entry expanding on what the IBM Principles are intended to mean.

Wiki Recommendations:  As noted, the Wiki process brought together the active participation of 70 knowledgeable, representative (both by discipline, type of invovlement and geography) standards experts during a six week process, led by five moderators, of which I was one.  The discussion was conducted under five main topics: 

  • Transparency and accountability of the Standards Process (I moderated this topic)
  • Quality and Creation of the Technical Standard
  • Rating and Accreditation
  • Policy and Societal Implications
  • Intellectual property in Standards

 Each topic inspired active, and often spirited, participation and a wide variety of views.  Part way through the process, an effort was made to focus the participants towards making "actionable recommendations" that could then be shared with the general public for further debate and (in the case of IBM) actual incorporation into policy.  While described as "recommendations," this should be understood to mean in many cases to mean "supported by a sufficient number of participants to justify being recommended for ongoing consideration and debate."  Other recommendations can be considered true recommendations, based upon broad consensus.

In order to lead to action, the recommendations have been resorted into groupings that would be approviate for implementation by identified categories of stakeholders:

  • Governments
  • Standards Development Organizations (SDOs)
  • Standards Community
  • Quasi-Governmental and Non-Governmental Agencies
  • International Organizations
  • Intellectual Property [admittedly an apple to the organizational orange, but this category cuts across all of the others]
  • Academia

Some of the recommendations are obvious and hallowed (if not always currently honored in the breach), while others are most radical, with those under the government heading being most striking.  Those recommendations are as follows: 

  • Call on lawmakers to regulate intellectual property component of standards
  • Encourage adoption of new procurement rules requiring good ratings from trusted sources
  • Recognize the existence of "Civil Information & Communication Technology Standards," the need for government to protect them and promote them through procurement policy
  • Elevate the importance of standards in the missions of the Departments of Justice and Commerce, and National Institute of Standards & Tech.  These agencies would guide the creation, publication, and rewards associated with standards
  • Elevate the priority of protecting standards in the missions of the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice
  • Raise government awareness throughout the world to the deliverables of the Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services (IDABC)

 

With the exception of the last bullet, each of these would constitute a fairly radical shift in the balance of power between the public and private sectors in standard setting, and particularly so in the United States.

 

  • There are far reaching examples in other categories as well, including the following, under the SDOs category:
  • Develop and maintain an organization to create a quality index of existing SDOs and best practices for SDOs to motivate existing and new SDOs
  • Discourage non members from ambushing standards -- create organization to expose prior art of patent speculators
  • Create a clearinghouse to determine the value of patent to standards

 

And these, under the Standards Community heading:

  • Create standards and intellectual property-oriented clearinghouse with watchdog or accreditation responsibility
  • Create an organization to apply open source-style ratings to intellectual property policies, such as patent non-assertion covenants.  This will encourage more consistency and certainty, and promote free and open source-friendly patent commitments
  • Apply open-government rules to standards creation process to ensure transparency, limit undue influence, and increase public confidence in standards
  • Create "commitment registry” for ex-ante disclosures and patent pledges, ideally in cooperation with the US Patent & Trademark Office
  • Encourage “minimalist” specs while discouraging competition-limiting proprietary extensions.  This will limit intellectual property conflicts, and leave room for future development, innovation, accuracy and consensus
  • Create “Underwriters Laboratory-type" organization to provide patent certification prior to SDO submission
  • Pilot Peer to Patent-style program to determine what patents may be essential to a standard, and which ones are not

 

And these under the Quasi-Governmental category, the first being of particular importance to me

 

  • Define civil ICT standards, and promote their development and use
  • Harmonize national standards development policies
  • Elevate mission of UN Dynamic Coalition on Open Standards & UN Development Programme

 

And again, for International Trade Organizations (the fall out of the OOXML process is particularly clear in the first two bullets):

 

  • Call for review and pervasive reform of ISO/IEC JTC 1 directives and processes
  • Reinforce World Summit on the Information Society Declaration of Principles -- states that open standards are important to IT diffusion in the developing world

 

And finally these, under the Intellectual Property heading: 

  • Call on lawmakers to regulate intellectual property component of standards
  • Create "commitment registry” for ex-ante disclosures and patent pledges, ideally in cooperation with the US Patent & Trademark Office
  • Discourage non members from ambushing standards -- create organization to expose prior art of patent speculators
  • Elevate the importance of standards in the missions of the Departments of Justice and Commerce, and National Institute of Standards & Tech.  These agencies would guide the creation, publication, and rewards associated with standards

 

Clearly, these are ambitious and controversial recommendations.  But they have also been carefully considered, and tailored to the real needs of the marketplace.  I feel, as do the other moderators and participants that helped generate them, that it is important and necessary to take this dialogue to the next step, and actively pursue implementing those recommendations that can find consensus, and that can bolster the integrity, transparency and effectiveness of a process that becomes more vitally important to the modern world with every passing day. 

I hope that you'll decide to join in and support that effort.  

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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

IBM I.T. STANDARDS POLICY

 

Preamble

Open standards can help deliver good governance, societal freedoms, economic health, business growth, global competition, and technological innovation. To that end, IBM, supports the consistent and fair application of standards development practices for all stakeholders, whether they be consumer, governmental, commercial, or open source, in emerging and mature economies alike. IBM does now, and will continue, to adhere to the following principles, informing IBM's participation in the standards community with integrity, innovation and good faith:

The tenets of IBM's new policy are to:

  • Begin or end participation in standards bodies based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies.
  • Encourage emerging and developed economies to both adopt open global standards and to participate in the creation of those standards.
  • Advance governance rules within standards bodies that ensure technology decisions, votes, and dispute resolutions are made fairly by independent participants, protected from undue influence.
  • Collaborate with standards bodies and developer communities to ensure that open software interoperability standards are freely available and implementable.
  • Help drive the creation of clear, simple and consistent intellectual property policies for standards organizations, thereby enabling standards developers and implementers to make informed technical and business decisions.

For example, IBM will:

  • Review and take necessary actions concerning its membership in standards organizations.
  • In the regions and countries where we do business, encourage local participation in the creation and use of standards that solve the problems and meet the requirements of all affected stakeholders around the world. We will advocate governance policies in standards bodies that encourage diverse participation.
  • Advance governance rules within standards bodies that ensure technology decisions, votes, and dispute resolutions are made fairly by independent participants, protected from undue influence.
  • Work for process reform in standards organizations so that proxies or surrogates cannot be used in standards creation and approval.
  • Collaborate with standards organizations and stakeholders to streamline and consolidate intellectual property licenses and policies, with a focus on enabling software applications to become more easily interoperable by the use of open standards.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

WIKI RECOMMENDATIONS

 Following are suggestions that were proffered by individuals during the wiki.  They do not necessarily reflect unanimous or consensus views.

 Government

  • Call on lawmakers to regulate intellectual property component of standards
  • Encourage adoption of new procurement rules requiring good ratings from trusted sources
  • Recognize the existence of "Civil Information & Communication Technology Standards," the need for government to protect them and promote them through procurement policy
  • Elevate the importance of standards in the missions of the Departments of Justice and Commerce, and National Institute of Standards & Tech.  These agencies would guide the creation, publication, and rewards associated with standards
  • Elevate the priority of protecting standards in the missions of the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice
  • Raise government awareness throughout the world to the deliverables of the Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services (IDABC)

Standards Development Organizations (SDOs)

  • Develop and maintain an organization to create a quality index of existing SDOs and best practices for SDOs to motivate existing and new SDOs
  • Encourage member-pledges to make early disclosures of intellectual property
  • Discourage non members from ambushing standards -- create organization to expose prior art of patent speculators
  • Create a clearinghouse to determine the value of patent to standards
  • Adopt Web 2.0 and 3.0 technologies to enhance transparency during the standards development process

Standards Community

  • Create standards and intellectual property-oriented clearinghouse with watchdog or accreditation responsibility
  • Create an organization to apply open source-style ratings to intellectual property policies, such as patent non-assertion covenants.  This will encourage more consistency and certainty, and promote free and open source-friendly patent commitments
  • Apply open-government rules to standards creation process to ensure transparency, limit undue influence, and increase public confidence in standards
  • Create "commitment registry” for ex-ante disclosures and patent pledges, ideally in cooperation with the US Patent & Trademark Office
  • Encourage “minimalist” specs while discouraging competition-limiting proprietary extensions.  This will limit intellectual property conflicts, and leave room for future development, innovation, accuracy and consensus
  • Create “Underwriters Laboratory-type" organization to provide patent certification prior to SDO submission
  • Pilot Peer to Patent-style program to determine what patents may be essential to a standard, and which ones are not

Quasi-Governmental and Non-Governmental Agencies

  • Define civil ICT standards, and promote their development and use
  • Harmonize national standards development policies
  • Elevate mission of UN Dynamic Coalition on Open Standards & UN Development Programme

International Trade Organizations

  • Call for review and pervasive reform of ISO/IEC JTC 1 directives and processes
  • Renforce World Summit on the Information Society Declaration of Principles -- states that open standards are important to IT diffusion in the developing world
  • Enourage better application of World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade

Intellectual Property

  • Call on lawmakers to regulate intellectual property component of standards
  • Pilot Peer to Patent-style program to determine what patents may be essential to a standard, and which ones are not
  • Create an organization to apply open source-style ratings to intellectual property policies, such as patent non-assertion covenants.  This will encourage more consistency and certainty, and promote free and open source-friendly patent commitments
  • Create "commitment registry” for ex-ante disclosures and patent pledges, ideally in cooperation with the US Patent & Trademark Office
  • Encourage “minimalist” specs while discouraging competition-limiting proprietary extensions.  This will limit intellectual property conflicts, and leave room for future development, innovation, accuracy and consensus
  • Encourage member-pledges to make early disclosures of intellectual property
  • Discourage non members from ambushing standards -- create organization to expose prior art of patent speculators
  • Create a clearinghouse to determine the value of patent to standards
  • Elevate the importance of standards in the missions of the Departments of Justice and Commerce, and National Institute of Standards & Tech.  These agencies would guide the creation, publication, and rewards associated with standards
  • Elevate the priority of protecting standards in the missions of the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice

Academia

  • Offer standards courses at engineering schools
  • Promote academic and policy research and discusssions at law and business schools

 

[Futher material including discussion extracts has been omitted]

Comments

Permalink
"By the way, does anyone see the irony in closed meetings to discuss openness?"

Ummm...nope. Seem totally reasonable that people that really care about standards being open, fair and usable want to gather with others with the same inclination and find solutions.

It would be rather backwards to invite people that thinks "patents on mathematics is essential for the software industry" or that "all standards are acceptable since they are opt in", wouldn't it?

"Perhaps we need a standard for standards for standards."

Just start working on it then while the rest of us focus on making ICT becoming reality.

Permalink
Rick, "does anyone see the irony in closed meetings to discuss openness" Nice try, but as far as I see, the wiki discussion was about IBM's new I.T.Standards Policy, not about openness on itself. It is not surprising that a company has internal discussions to define their own internal policies. In addition, I don't see that any meeting was organised, but rather an on-line wiki discussion. If you want to make relevant comments about "closed meeting to discuss openness", I think a better subject would be how ISO organises their BRM meetings to discuss open standards. Does your bitter comments mean that your are against the resulting recommendations ? Luc Bollen

Considering how the BRM was conducted, I find it interesting that, under the rules that the BRM operated, last minute members to the meeting were the deciding factor in pushing OOXML, then the new "members" decided that they didn't have to follow the rules of membership. Results - the standards body was basically hamstrung and not able to continue to do their work.

Invitation-only for participation in setting standards sounds reasonable under these circumstances.

The only caveat I would posit would be that the invitations be sent to active members (active being members that participate at ALL levels of membership - not just selected levels like what happened at OOXML).

- Ken

"Invitation only, it says, for the next step in November. That's an ironic open process."

As Andy wrote:
"The process in question was a Wiki-based conversation conducted over a six week period last May and June, involving over 70 government, academic, industry, policy and standards body thought leaders from around the world. "

This must really be a very select list of back room dealers, indeed.

As usual, Rick gets the words right, but leaves out the context. But you might want to ask for an invitation?

There have been accusations in the past that some technical committees were swamped with people who had no expertise in the field. They were perceived as being only there to cast votes for a business partner. Maybe the organizers are a little paranoid about the type of "business partners" that might show up?

Winter

Permalink
"Perhaps this desire to create the perfect standards body is what has been holding them back from standardizing their mainframe interfaces, revealing their IP to create a more open market."

Rather strange that you start to talk about their mainframes in this situation...what does the interfaces for IBM hardware have to do with ICT stuff like exchange of office documents?

Permalink
I'm in a meeting, so I can only post a brief comment, but what I think that people are missing is that the point of the Wiki process was not to create something like a final standard that would be imposed on anyone, but a set of ideas that could be used, changed, discarded, or replaced by anyone - as open content.  So while a certain group of people came up with the ideas as a starting point for anyone and everyone else in the world to discuss and build upon, there are no constraints on that process.  This is a starting point and not an end point. 

So any comparison to the BRM, the purpose of which was to set up a final, binding outcome is rather silly, I think.

As to the Yale meeting, we'll be having an interactive discussion that has logical size constraints.  Once again, this is simply an opportunity to continue a dialogue, and in no way constrains anyone else from holding a dialogue anywhere else.

So once again, I think that attempts to find a malign intent here, or any conceivable constraining outcome, would be, at best, strained.

  -  Andy

I can't tell you how excited I am to see this process has begun. My best wishes and encouragement go to all involved.

Permalink
"Perhaps this desire to create the perfect standards body is what has been holding them back from standardizing their mainframe interfaces, revealing their IP to create a more open market."  

But IBM didn't subvert the existing standards process to foist their proprietary IP on the world.  You're just being sarcastic, Mr Jelliffe.

Of course holding such discussions in private is ironic, but that's how diplomacy is conducted,  not an area you're very familiar with perhaps?

RA

RA wrote: "You're just being sarcastic, Mr Jelliffe."

Well it made me laugh anyway.

"Of course holding such discussions in private is ironic, but that's how diplomacy is conducted,  not an area you're very familiar with perhaps?"

Diplomacy?  Err, when you  select a group of people you agree with, set them talking in private about a subjects you set, then select text you agree with from that, what you get is a press release not a resolution of the UN Security Council... 

Cheers

Rick Jelliffe

 

I have tremendous respect for some of the participants, such as SQL's Jim Melton from Oracle.  

It would be great if IBM would open up this Wiki.  As I mentioned before, a document about a closed group calling for openness is comical (but not sinister.) 

This is a complicated issue, so information on how to stop new bodies from being a power grab by large corporations or authoritarian governments would be interesting. I suppose that some people live in a more corporatized world, and wouldn't notice the absence of individuals, yet some of the most popular standard technologies exist entirely because of championing individuals not corporate sponsorship and agendas. This is what Martin Bryan was talking about when he spoke against "standardization by corporation", by the way.

Cheers
Rick Jelliffe

@Rick:
"Diplomacy?  Err, when you  select a group of people you agree with, set them talking in private about a subjects you set, then select text you agree with from that, what you get is a press release not a resolution of the UN Security Council... "

Have you any evidence for that?

If this is indeed about the IBM press release, and not some general principle, you imply that this is a hoax. Thus IBM was not trying to get opinions, just support for it's company policy. And then was selectively quoting the conclusions.

That sounds indeed very insincere of IBM, as if they wanted to betray us.

You seem to know more than we do. Please share your information.

Winter

Permalink

Andy, I don't understand what you mean when you write
"While IBM's standards activities are formidible, IBM still controls only one vote within any single standards organization."

In some cases, such as OASIS, there can be multiple employees of a single company. So IBM has three or four votes on the ODF TC, for example. And in other cases, in particular second tier organizations, there are no private or corporate members voting.  So IBM has no votes in SC34, for example (only National Bodies vote).

Cheers

Rick Jelliffe

 

Rick,

There are exceptions to the statement, but the exceptions are a small percentage (my guess would be under - probably much under - 5%).  The vast majority of IT standards, as you know, are set in consortia and not accredited bodies.  The number of consortia that allow inidividual members to vote (if they allow individuals to be members at all - which is also rare) is very small - OASIS, IEEE and a few more.  And, of course, where IBM can send more than one employee, so can any other vendor, so it tends to balance out, resetting to effectively one vote, in a contentious setting.

Is this the

  -  Andy

Permalink
"What is most remarkable in this blog post is that Rick is able to dish IBM's consultation without mentioning OOXML, Ecma, or MS."

Errata, I was too fast and using a misconfigured browser messing up the layout.

Rick does mention OOXML etc. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Winter

Rick,

"Again, you make a connection between my comment and rape.  Do you think people get fooled by that?"

You chose a "funny" title that has been widely used in the past to give "advice" to rape victims (eg, see quotes). And I really have seen that quote in other languages. To me, it gave the impression that you intended to paint IBM as raping the standards community.

Apparently your "funny" headline destroyed your intentions with this article. At least for some readers.

As a general advice, if you do not want to people to get the wrong impression you should take care when you select "funny" headlines. Especially if your audience contains a lot of second language learners of English (Nature magazine got bitten by that too when they made fun once with "Helping the police" in respect to the Romanian Securitate).

Attacking me for misunderstanding your headline won't help here. A simple, "I did not intend that interpretation" would have closed this point completely.

Winter

Winter wrote: As a general advice, if you do not want to people to get the wrong impression you should take care when you select "funny" headlines. Especially if your audience contains a lot of second language learners of English...

Thank you for your advice. As a general rule, people with a second language know to give the benefit of the doubt to their interpretation when it comes to nuances, and don't jump in making toxic claims. Unless they are trolls.   That kind of cheese-paring, fault-finding micro-parsing is not productive.

Rick Jelliffe

"As a general rule, people with a second language know to give the benefit of the doubt to their interpretation when it comes to nuances, and don't jump in making toxic claims."

As a genuine second language user I can tell you that second langauge users will google when they are unsure about the meaning...not that this would happen in this case. Clayton Williams quote has pretty much been run in every newspaper around the globe since it is so absolutely tasteless and most nations has a strong interest in if McCain or Obama will be ellected. You can be pretty sure that just about every reader you will understand the rape implication.