Neelie Kroes: Passion and Pence for Openness

Neelie Kroes is not your average European Commissioner. Before she became the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, her current post, she was European Commissioner for Competition, and in that capacity made a speech about open standards in...

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Neelie Kroes is not your average European Commissioner. Before she became the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, her current post, she was European Commissioner for Competition, and in that capacity made a speech about open standards in 2008, which included the following statements:

First, we should only standardise when there are demonstrable benefits, and we should not rush to standardise on a particular technology too early.

Second, I fail to see the interest of customers in including proprietary technology in standards when there are no clear and demonstrable benefits over non-proprietary alternatives.

Third, standardisation agreements should be based on the merits of the technologies involved. Allowing companies to sit around a table and agree technical developments for their industry is not something that the competition rules would usually allow. So when it is allowed we have to look carefully at how it is done.

If voting in the standard-setting context is influenced less by the technical merits of the technology but rather by side agreements, inducements, package deals, reciprocal agreements, or commercial pressure ... then these risk falling foul of the competition rules.

Then, last year, she offered her equally sane views on copyright:

But let's ask ourselves, is the current copyright system the right and only tool to achieve our objectives? Not really, I'm afraid. We need to keep on fighting against piracy, but legal enforceability is becoming increasingly difficult; the millions of dollars invested trying to enforce copyright have not stemmed piracy. Meanwhile citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Sadly, many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognise and reward.

Yesterday, Kroes was speaking at the Open Forum Europe's Summit, which I attended (disclosure: OFE paid for my travel and accommodation there.) It was good to see that she's still beating the drum for openness:

Our world is changing fast. Twenty years ago few had heard of the Internet. Today, it's used by 2 to 3 billion worldwide; it's a trillion-euro marketplace; it's the platform for innovation transforming every sector from healthcare to transport.

These days, it's hard to predict how the world will look in a few months, let alone years: there's so much potential in the path ahead.

Those changes are thanks to research and innovation; in new technologies, new products, new business models.

But those changes also enable a new kind of research and innovation: open, agile and collaborative. Innovation using new forums like online collective platforms; new resources like open data; new techniques like data-mining.

Even more welcome is the fact that she intends to promote open innovation through funding:

I want to try out support for truly open, disruptive innovation in ICT. Allocating perhaps 5% of funds to create an open, agile, responsive funding instrument. Starting an experiment to support creativity and innovation.

She concluded:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I know from previous visits here at Open Forum Europe that you share my passion for openness online.

I hope you can also see my passion for open, transformed ICT research and innovation.

Now, fine words butter no parsnips, but there could be real money involved here, which would make things rather different. Let's hope Kroes follows through and does get 5% allocated to supporting open, disruptive innovation in ICT – and that she continues to push harder for openness and a more sensible approach to intellectual monopolies.

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