FSFE responds to UK Open Standards Consultation

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FSFE has submitted its response [Update: see as PDF version or HTML version] to a public consultation by the UK Government, concerning a definition of Open Standards and a policy for increasing their use in the UK's public sector. If the policy is applied boldly and proactively, the UK stands to greatly gain from increased competition in the software market, with much greater opportunities for small companies. On the other hand, even minor lapses in implementation could derail the policy entirely.

While we take a generally positive view of the proposed policy, there are several areas of concern. First, the proposal seems to limit application of the policy to a small number of central government bodies. This would not be enough to break the widespread lock-in to proprietary formats from which the UK public sector is suffering.

Second, the definition of what constitutes an Open Standard needs to be carefully crafted. Even small mistakes here risk rendering the policy entirely ineffective in practice.

Third, in order for the policy to be effective, the UK government will have to help those who are supposed to implement it in practice. Procurement and IT staff will require training. Incentives should be in place for those who adhere to the policy, e.g. recognition via a system of peer evaluation. We encourage the UK government to learn from the experience of other countries in Europe and beyond.

FSFE has called upon companies and individuals doing business with Free Software in the UK to answer to the consultation. We have provided supporting materials, and remarked upon the incompatibility with Free Software of FRAND patent licensing in standards.