The UK Cabinet Office is seeking advice on the definition of open standards in the context of Government Information Technologies, by posting the relative consultation documents online on 8 February 2012. The consultation follows the withdrawal, in November 2011, of an IT Procurement policy in effect since in January 2011.
The consultation should also help make clear what effects compulsory standards may have on Government departments, delivery partners and supply chains. Another aim is to gain knowledge on international alignment and cross-border interoperability.
In his statement, Minister for Cabinet Office Francis Maude said: "We are committed to implementing open standards and want to create a level playing field for open source and proprietary software. Open standards for software and systems will reduce costs and enable us to provide better public services. We want to get this right; so we want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to have their say on this matter."The statement also quotes Liam Maxwell, Director for ICT Futures in the Cabinet Office: "There's a lot of strong opinion on this subject, so I'm urging people to take this opportunity and let us know what they think."
An earlier definition of open standards was withdrawn in November 2011. In its rescinded 'Procurement Policy Note' the Cabinet had written that Government departments "should wherever possible deploy open standards". As part of its definition it had included that this would mean that intellectual property should be "made irrevocably available on a royalty free basis".
According to reports by a UK IT news site, the Procurement Policy Note was withdrawn following opposition from proprietary software vendors and from three UK, European and international Standardisation Organisations: the Engineering Standards Committee - BSI Group (BSI), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CEN/Cenelec) and the International Standardisation Organisation ( ISO). The latter fear that the UK's definition of open standards would make it impossible for the so-called Frand (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) standards to be part of Government IT solutions. Frand standards may for instance contain terms that demand reasonable rates for licensing proprietary technology. This will be a barrier to free and open source applications, unless the developers organise a way to pay off the royalty charges.
In the new consultation, the Cabinet refers to the European Commission's European Interoperability Framework (EIF). It writes that the EIF does not provide a definition of open standards but gives a number of recommendations, including that procurement terms should allow implementation in open source.
The same IT news site writes that David Bell, Head of External Policy at the British Standards Institution, was reassured by ICT Director Maxwell "that the policy did not mean what either the BSI or its international partners thought it did".