Linux Foundation Calls for Support of IBM IT Standards Policy

As I reported yesterday, IBM has announced a new "I.T.Standards Policy," calling for (among other things) more transparency, openness and inclusiveness in the standards development process, and for the use by standards organizations of fewer, clearer and more open-source friendly intellectual property rights policies.  IBM also disclosed the wide-ranging, and in some cases radical, recommendations offered by 70 standards experts from around the world.  These recommendations are intended to raise the bar in standards development.

Rather predictably, it was one particular aspect of the IBM announcement that drew the most interest - and headlines. The result was a host of stories with titles like IBM May Quit Technology Standards Bodies (Wall Street Journal), IBM Treatens to Leave Standards Bodies (the New York Times) and, to the same point but more entertainingly, IBM Takes a Blunt Axe to its Dealings with Standards-Setters (Financial Times).  Clearly, when IBM threatens, people listen.  Still, as I observed yesterday,

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.

I'm pleased to say that such words of support are starting to be offered, beginning with this statement of support from the Linux Foundation:

Linux Foundation Statement on IBM IT Standards Policy

Yesterday, Linux Foundation member IBM announced its adoption of a new corporate policy that will govern its global participation in the standards development process. It also revealed a list of standards reform recommendations generated through a discussion among 70 standards experts from around the world, and called upon all stakeholders, from the open source community, to vendors, to government, to academia, to join in a dialogue that can both raise the bar for standards development as well as facilitate the implementation of open interoperability standards in open source software.

The IBM policy details a set of principles that are intended to regulate its participation in standards development, as well as a list of action items that will direct its efforts in seeking the reform of that process.
IBM’s goals in this pursuit will be to seek greater transparency, openness and inclusiveness in standards development, and also to facilitate the integration of that process with the development of open source software.

The Linux Foundation applauds this action, and supports IBM’s call for raising the bar in the standards development process. In particular, the Foundation, which uniquely supports both open source software and open standards, appreciates IBM’s leadership in recognizing the importance of promoting the advancement of these two essential technology tools in a coordinated way. Submarine patents, overly restrictive intellectual
property policies, and undue vendor influence are of equal concern to proponents of both open standards and open source software, and the best solutions will be those that address the needs of both disciplines.

Like IBM, the Foundation is working for similar goals. Accordingly, the Foundation calls upon others to support the principles laid out in the IBM announcement, and make common cause with this worthwhile effort.

True, IBM is a member of the Foundation – but that would also be true with regard to the vast majority of other IT standards group of any stature that have anything to do with software, hardware, wireless, open source,…well, you get the idea.  But I can personally vouch for the fact that the Linux Foundation statement was created without IBM’s knowledge, much less at its request.

What does lie behind the making of the Foundation’s statement is the fact that IBM is touching on a widely-felt sense of unhappiness with the status quo.  And while the new IBM policy may be more articulate and cohesive than what others may be thinking to themselves, it is giving voice to the type of self-evident best practices that ought, by rights, to be already directing all standards development efforts everywhere.  The problem is not that the IBM principles are, or should be, seen as controversial, but that they need to be publicly stated at all.

My hope is that the Linux Foundation’s statement will be but the first public statement of solidarity, recognizing that IBM has started a ball rolling here that that others should put their shoulders behind.  Hopefully there will be more such statements in the near future, and more voices added to the dialogue.  I’ll look forward to reporting on them here when they do.


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