Europe backs open source in new Interoperability Framework

The European Union has issued new public procurement rules that broadly favour open source technologies.


The European Union has issued new public procurement rules that broadly favour open source technologies.

The controversial European Interoperability Framework (EIF) was finally released on Thursday. The framework sets out the interoperability standards to be used by member states in exchanging data between public administrations, and recommends that open standards be given preference over proprietary alternatives where possible.

The final text however is broadly supportive of open standards, the main bone of contention. "Due to their positive effect on interoperability, the use of such open specifications has been promoted in many policy statements and is encouraged for European public service delivery," the text reads. "The positive effect of open specifications is also demonstrated by the Internet ecosystem."

The Business Software Alliance (BSA), whose members include Microsoft, SAP, IBM, Dell and HP, recently argued that this will encourage companies to give away their patents if they want to win public sector contracts. However, the Commission says that public administrations may decide to use less open specifications, if open specifications do not exist or do not meet their interoperability needs.

The EIF also requires that in all cases, specifications should be "mature and sufficiently supported by the market." It also says that intellectual property rights related to the specification must be licensed on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms or on a royalty-free basis so that both proprietary and open source software can compete on an equal footing. This has settled an argument between those who believed that FRAND licensing was incompatible with open source and those who wanted FRAND enshrined as the main standard.

The word "standard" has a specific meaning in Europe. Only technical specifications approved by a recognized standardization body can be called a standard. However many ICT systems rely on the use of specifications developed by other organizations such as a forum or consortium. The EIF has created the term "formalized specification" to cover both options.

Unlike other EU rules, the EIF is not subject to the approval of the European Parliament or member states.

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