Time to Learn from China on Open Standards?
Published 10:04, 16 March 10
One of the major battles under way in Europe is over open standards. As its name suggests, an open standard is one that is open to all, without restrictions or obstacles; anything less than that is just window-dressing.
In particular, if any part of the standard is encumbered with patents, these must be available on a royalty-free basis: “Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory (RAND)” is not good enough, since RAND licences with non-zero fees, however minute, *do* discriminate against open source using licences like the GNU GPL.
Against that background, here's some news from China. The “Report of the First Meeting of the EU-China IP Working Group” [.pdf] is a typical piece of unthinking intellectual monopoly maximalism. Here's the relevant section:
In fields such as telecommunications or electronic home appliances, where standardization is a necessity, standards usually include technologies protected by intellectual property rights. Currently, the Chinese companies using technologies detained by European companies are not allowed to enter into negotiations on the amount of royalties due to the latter, when they use their essential patents in the framework of open standards. The situation is highly detrimental to European companies and their complaint has been reflected in the European Chamber of Commerce in China (EUCCC) - IPR Working Group’s Position Paper 2005. The Commission therefore urged the Chinese government to take action in order to ensure that those royalties are duly paid by Chinese companies.
Sounds like the Chinese are already doing what Europe ought to be moving towards: open standards without patents that need to be licensed. After all, it's in European companies' best interests if their technologies lie at the heart of Chinese open standards: it means that they can sell products into that market more easily. The benefits of doing so far outweigh any nominal loss of claimed licensing revenues.
Europe should be learning from China's example, not sending patronising nastygrams that just makes it look petulant and anachronistic. China will, in any case, do what it wants, so the sooner Europe learns to exploit that situation, the better it will be for its industries.