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Opening Standards

Opening Standards: The Global Politics of Interoperability

edited by Laura DeNardis
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Opening Standards
    Book Description:

    Openness is not a given on the Internet. Technical standards--the underlying architecture that enables interoperability among hardware and software from different manufacturers--increasingly control individual freedom and the pace of innovation in technology markets. Heated battles rage over the very definition of "openness" and what constitutes an open standard in information and communication technologies. In Opening Standards, experts from industry, academia, and public policy explore just what is at stake in these controversies, considering both economic and political implications of open standards. The book examines the effect of open standards on innovation, on the relationship between interoperability and public policy (and if government has a responsibility to promote open standards), and on intellectual property rights in standardization--an issue at the heart of current global controversies. Finally, Opening Standards recommends a framework for defining openness in twenty-first-century information infrastructures. Contributors discuss such topics as how to reflect the public interest in the private standards-setting process; why open standards have a beneficial effect on competition and Internet freedom; the effects of intellectual property rights on standards openness; and how to define standard, open standard, and software interoperability.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29822-3
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Global Controversies over Open Standards
    (pp. vii-xvi)
    Laura DeNardis

    The candlelight vigil in front of the town hall in Bangalore, India, brought together young engineering students and information technology professionals along with an eclectic collection of Bangalore residents. One protester was reportedly a Bangalore scrap dealer whose business relied on a computer center in a local slum.¹ The purpose of the vigil, organized by a free software users group in India, was to protest the passage of a technical standard—OOXML, or Open Office eXtensible Markup Language—by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The protesters hoped to pressure the Indian government into filing an appeal over the passage...

  4. I The Politics of Interoperability

    • 1 Injecting the Public Interest into Internet Standards
      (pp. 3-12)
      John B. Morris Jr.

      It is said that on the Internet, “code is law.”¹ Seemingly narrow technical choices can have broad and lasting impacts on public policy and individual rights. These technical decisions are primarily made in the private bodies that set the technical standards for the Internet—such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and a growing number of smaller standards bodies and industry consortia. These key standards bodies operate largely outside of the public eye and with little input from public interest groups or public policy makers. How then can the public’s interest in an...

    • 2 The Government at the Standards Bazaar
      (pp. 13-32)
      Stacy Baird

      In recent years, there has been heightened interest in having a state or national government intervene in the information technology standards-setting process to mandate a particular standard.¹ The information technologies industries are in an extremely competitive commercial environment, one that relies on interoperability among increasingly heterogeneous products and services. Simultaneously, the question of technical interoperability has vexed governments in undertaking some of their traditional responsibilities. The high demand for interoperability is in turn creating an environment wherein stakeholders are more likely to turn to government to intervene in the market to aid in achieving particular goals more rapidly than may...

    • 3 Governments, the Public Interest, and Standards Setting
      (pp. 33-44)
      D. Linda Garcia

      In the United States, much of the global discussion about standards setting has focused on the question “What is the appropriate division of labor between the public and private sectors in this arena?” Building upon our federalist tradition, standards setters in the United States have held to the notion that standards setting is a private affair (OTA 1992). In most other countries, especially those like France—with a strong statist tradition—the national government has taken the lead. The decision to assign the responsibility for standard setting to the private sector has been based on two basic assumptions. First, it...

    • 4 Securing the Root
      (pp. 45-62)
      Brenden Kuerbis and Milton Mueller

      Management of the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) root zone file is a uniquely global policy problem. The DNS provides the semantically meaningful names that serve as unique identifiers for email or Web site addresses (e.g., The DNS name space is hierarchically structured but organizationally distributed. In essence, it is a global database that maps domain names to resource record data (e.g., an IP address). To remain globally interoperable there must be coordination at the top of the naming hierarchy, known as “the root.” The root zone file is an 84 KB text file containing resource records...

    • 5 Open Document Standards for Government: The South African Experience
      (pp. 63-72)
      Andrew Rens

      During 2007 and 2008, South Africa was at the forefront of the growing global movement to promote the use of open standards in computer software both at home and on the international stage. This case study of the South African experience illustrates the growing importance of open standards to the state, in particular to the developmental state, and increasingly contested international standards-making processes.

      Modern states rely for their core functions on the processing of information through information and communication technologies. The technologies deployed by a state are therefore not incidental to its form but instead are powerful if often unrecognized...

  5. II Standards, Innovation, and Development Economics

    • 6 An Economic Basis for Open Standards
      (pp. 75-96)
      Rishab Ghosh

      This chapter provides an overview of standards and standards-setting processes. It describes the economic effect of technology standards—de facto as well as de jure—and differentiates between the impact on competition and welfare that various levels of standards have. It argues that most of what is claimed for “open standards” in recent policy debates was already well encompassed by the term “standards”; a different term is needed only if it is defined clearly in order to provide a distinct economic effect.

      This chapter argues that open standards, properly defined, can have the particular economic effect of allowing “natural” monopolies...

    • 7 Open Innovation and Interoperability
      (pp. 97-118)
      Nicos L. Tsilas

      The information technology (IT) industry is driving an unprecedented level of interoperability and innovation, giving customers increased choice and innovative products. This chapter briefly addresses a few key issues facing the IT industry today, including (1) the transition of the IT industry (along with other industries) from a “Closed Innovation” model to an “Open Innovation” model; (2) the various types of interoperability and the optimal roles of industry and government in achieving interoperability; and (3) the importance of a balanced definition of “open standards” to ensure that intellectual property (IP) holders and implementers have the proper incentives to work together...

    • 8 Standards, Trade, and Development
      (pp. 119-132)
      John S. Wilson

      The expansion of global trade over the past fifty years has contributed to economic welfare, poverty reduction, and human development in important ways. Despite the downturn in trade due to the global economic crisis, the World Bank forecast that global trade volumes would grow by 4.3 percent in 2010 and by 6.2 percent in 2011 (World Bank 2010). Poverty is an immediate global problem, with more than one billion people living in extreme poverty. Although trade is not the only mechanism to reduce poverty, it can contribute to economic growth and help to lift people out of poverty. The removal...

  6. III Standards-Based Intellectual Property Debates

    • 9 Questioning Copyright in Standards
      (pp. 135-158)
      Pamela Samuelson

      Standards are essential to the operation of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and indeed, the modern information society, an integral part of the largely invisible infrastructure of the modern world that makes things work. Every time people send email, for example, more than two hundred formally adopted Internet standards are implicated.¹ With the rise of the information economy, copyright has become a new prominent factor in the longstanding debate over intellectual property rights in standards, as standards-setting organizations (SSOs) increasingly claim and charge substantial fees for access to and rights to use standards such as the International Organization for...

    • 10 Constructing Legitimacy: The W3C’s Patent Policy
      (pp. 159-176)
      Andrew L. Russell

      The Web became worldwide because its standards were open. Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first versions of Web browser and server software in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Throughout the 1990s, he took deliberate and repeated steps to ensure that this software remained open and freely available to anyone, no strings attached. In social terms, this strategy made Berners-Lee a champion to open source programmers who shared his commitment to openness; in practical terms it made the Web an accessible and exciting new tool for everybody.

      In the autumn of 2001, however, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)—the organization...

    • 11 Common and Uncommon Knowledge: Reducing Conflict between Standards and Patents
      (pp. 177-190)
      Brian Kahin

      Standards have become critical for advancing technology and new markets in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. At the same time, patents have become easier to obtain, more potent, and readily available for software and business methods. The low thresholds and opacity of the patent system have made inadvertent infringement commonplace, dramatically increasing opportunities for “patent trolls” to threaten ICT standards. Because these standards have much the same investment rationale as intellectual property, standards that meet minimum requirements of openness should be accorded protection from patent predators. Patent holders should assert their rights promptly—or waive the opportunity to...

  7. IV Interoperability and Openness

    • 12 ICT Standards Setting Today: A System under Stress
      (pp. 193-208)
      Andrew Updegrove

      The modern standards development infrastructure is largely the product of the industrial age and evolved to address the needs of such an economy. The requirements of a world that is increasingly based upon information and communications technology (ICT), however, are far different, and include demands for faster standards development, more vulnerability to uncooperative owners of necessary patent claims, and a greater need for universal, global adoption of core enabling standards. These needs have been partially addressed through several organic developments, such as the proliferation of consortia, the evolution of more detailed intellectual property rights policies, and the passage of the...

    • 13 Software Standards, Openness, and Interoperability
      (pp. 209-218)
      Robert S. Sutor

      Global debates about open standards for document formats dominated the information technology (IT) world in the opening decade of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, there remains basic confusion between what a standard does and what the rules are when one implements it. In certain open standards debates, I’ve been told secondhand that some people were even informed that “if you implement that standard, then all your software has to be given away for free.” This, of course, was wrong and confused, if it wasn’t, in fact, outright FUD (creation of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt).

      To clarify this, let’s talk about what...

    • 14 Open Standards: Definition and Policy
      (pp. 219-238)
      Ken Krechmer

      Technical standards represent a powerful way for society to influence the use of technology. In the past decade, the need for technology to be responsive to the changing needs of society has emerged. Technical standards that are more responsive to the changing needs of society are called “open standards.” But what does open standards mean? Multiple sources of implementations? No intellectual property costs? Standardized in a recognized standardization committee? The standard is the same worldwide? Backward compatibility is maintained? The standard is supported as long as users desire? Open standards mean different things to different people.

      Understanding what an open...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 239-246)
  9. Index
    (pp. 247-255)