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The UK Government is consulting on Open Standards support, and asking for responses on various questions about how they could encourage Open Standards through government action. Here are the questions:

Section 1: defining open standards:

  • How does this definition of open standard compare to your view of what makes a standard 'open'?
    • The Microformats definition of a standard (see The microformats process) is compatible with the UK Govt version. Specifically:
      • Microformats are collaborative and transparently maintained on this Wiki
      • we are a forum with a process to ensure quality
      • published, thoroughly documented and available at zero cost
      • to be considered 'standard' (as opposed to 'draft' or 'spec' ) requires interoperating implementations (note the distinction between publishing and consuming that we make)
      • All contributions are required to be CC0 (public domain) and will not be patented
  • What will the Government be inhibited from doing if this definition of open standards is adopted for software interoperability, data and document formats across central government?
    • Data formats operate on multiple levels. There is a distinction between underlying structural form (XML, JSON, SQL HTML etc) and the vocabulary in use that defines field names and validity. A well-defined structural form can accommodate variations in vocabulary between versions cleanly. Adopting standards with a tight binding between structure and vocabulary may constrain what is transferable.
  • For businesses attempting to break into the government IT market, would this policy make things easier or more difficult – does it help to level the playing field?
    • It should definitely help level the playing field.
  • How would mandating open standards for use in government IT for software interoperability, data and document formats affect your organisation?
    • Clearly it depends on the details of which standards and organisations are chosen. If we're a chosen standardisation organisation, it may lead to an influx of new editors and specifications, which is welcomed, but may add to contention here.
  • What effect would this policy have on improving value for money in the provision of government services?
    • it should promote re-use and hence reduce sunk costs, as well as interop costs.
  • Would this policy support innovation, competition and choice in delivery of government services?
    • It should, if bodies such as ours with an empirical worldview of standards can be chosen
  • In what way do software copyright licences and standards patent licences interact to support or prevent interoperability?
    • They often prevent interoperability, particularly when sprung on standards after they are in wide use.
  • How could adopting (Fair) Reasonable and Non Discriminatory ((F)RAND) standards deliver a level playing field for open source and proprietary software solution providers?
    • Sanctioning companies that use patents to obstruct open standards, or to extract rent from them would be a way to ensure that this is not abused.
  • Does selecting open standards which are compatible with a free or open source software licence exclude certain suppliers or products?
    • it may exclude those designed to extract rents in future.
  • Does a promise of non-assertion of a patent when used in open source software alleviate concerns relating to patents and royalty charging?
    • Yes, but the difficulty comes when patents are asserted by those nto party to the standard initially (eg Trolls and Non-Practicing Entities)
  • Should a different rationale be applied when purchasing off-the-shelf software solutions than is applied when purchasing bespoke solutions?
    • Being sure that you can get your data out fo the off-the-shelf software in a useful form is as important, as otherwise it may impose hidden bespoke costs later.
  • In terms of standards for software interoperability, data and document formats, is there a need for the Government to engage with or provide funding for specific committees/bodies?
    • Engaging with empirical standards bodies like Microformats is always welcome. Funding may be trickier as it can distory
  • Are there any are other policy options which would meet the described outcomes more effectively?
    • Not clear.

Mandating Open Standards

  • What criteria should the Government consider when deciding whether it is appropriate to mandate particular standards?

  • What effect would mandating particular open standards have on improving value for money in the provision of government services?

  • Are there any legal or procurement barriers to mandating specific open standards in the UK Government's IT?

  • Could mandation of competing open standards for the same function deliver interoperable software and information at reduced cost?

  • Could mandation of open standards promote anti-competitive behaviour in public procurement?

  • How would mandation of specific open standards for government IT software interoperability, data and document formats affect your organisation/business?

  • How should the Government best deal with the issue of change relating to legacy systems or incompatible updates to existing open standards?

  • What should trigger the review of an open standard that has already been mandated?

  • How should the Government strike a balance between nurturing innovation and conforming to standards?

  • How should the Government confirm that a solution claiming conformity to a standard is interoperable in practice?

  • Are there any are other policy options which would meet the objective more effectively?

International Alignment

  • Is the proposed UK policy compatible with European policies, directives and regulations (existing or planned) such as the European Interoperability Framework version 2.0 and the reform proposal for European Standardisation?

  • Will the open standards policy be beneficial or detrimental for innovation and competition in the UK and Europe?

  • Are there any are other policy options which would meet the objectives described in this consultation paper more effectively?