IBM Fires a Shot Across the ISO's Bows


I've written before about the parlous state into which the once-irreproachable ISO has fallen, particularly with its flagrant disregard of the concerns of major developing countries like India and Brazil during the OOXML standardisation process.

Pointing out the ISO's flaws is easy enough, but fixing them is more problematic. It seemed likely that much of the impetus would come from those countries that have been marginalised by the ISO, but things have just got much more interesting with the announcement of IBM's new “IT Standards Policy” which addresses precisely these issues:

IBM today announced that, effective immediately, it is instituting a new corporate policy that formalizes the company's behavior when helping to create open technical standards. Such standards enable electronic devices and software programs to interoperate with one another.

That sounds bland enough, but the five “tenets” of IBM's new policy read like a catalogue of what went wrong with OOXML at the ISO:

Begin or end participation in standards bodies based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies.

Encourage emerging and developed economies to both adopt open global standards and to participate in the creation of those standards.

Advance governance rules within standards bodies that ensure technology decisions, votes, and dispute resolutions are made fairly by independent participants, protected from undue influence.

Collaborate with standards bodies and developer communities to ensure that open software interoperability standards are freely available and implementable.

Help drive the creation of clear, simple and consistent intellectual property policies for standards organizations, thereby enabling standards developers and implementers to make informed technical and business decisions.

If IBM follows up these words with deeds, for example by withdrawing from the ISO standardisation process (assuming the latter is not radically reformed), then the next step would be to set up a new international standards body – one where developing countries are given a far larger say. Open source communities in those regions might like to start floating the idea so as to be well-placed if and when official discussions commence.

One thing is for sure, with IBM's provocative declaration, the questions already raised by many about the ISO's role in today's world of increasingly open technical standards have assumed a new urgency; the longer they go unanswered, the sooner an alternative forum is likely to be found.

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