Portugal Moves Forward on Open Standards

A couple of weeks ago, I was reviewing Spain's move to open standards. The good news is that elsewhere on the Iberian peninsular, Portugal, too, is doing great work in this area. The main legislation was passed back in 2011 [.pdf in English]. ...


A couple of weeks ago, I was reviewing Spain's move to open standards. The good news is that elsewhere on the Iberian peninsular, Portugal, too, is doing great work in this area.

The main legislation was passed back in 2011 [.pdf in English]. Here are some of its key clauses:

Article 3


1 – For the purposes of the present act, "open standard" is considered to be the technical manner in which to publish, transmit and store information in digital format fulfils cumulatively the following requirements:

a) Its adoption derives from a transparent decision process, available to the participation of all interested parties;

b) Its respective specifications document has been published and is freely available, with no restrictions to its copy, distribution and utilization;

c) Its respective specifications document does not incite cover non-documented actions or processes;

d) Its applicable Intellectual Property Rights, including patents, has been made available wholly, irrevocably and irreversibly to the Portuguese State.

e) There are no restrictions to its implementation.

As you can see, the key section requires any claimed patents to be made available "irrevocably and irreversibly to the Portuguese State"; that's not quite full RF, since it's restricted to the Portuguese government, but in practice I doubt whether standards using FRAND licensing will be prepared to make local exceptions in this way.

Article 4

Use of Open Standards

1- All processes of implementation, licensing and development of systems of information technology within the Public Administration have to use open standards, according to the regulation mentioned in Article 5.

2- Within the Public Administration, the adoption of Open Standards is mandatory in all text documents in digital format, which can be object of emission, exchange, archive, and publication.

3- According to this act, text documents in digital format submitted to the Public Administration by any individual or collective person, cannot be refused, ignored or returned on the grounds of using open standards.

This seems very strong to me. In particular, the section stating that a document cannot be refused on the grounds of it using open standards effectively means that government departments must be able to read things like ODF – they can't simply say: "we don't support it". That, in its turn, will lead to every government department in Portugal using ODF for at least some of its work.

However, we are not just talking about documents here:

The Regulation covers the following domains:

a) Data formats, including character sets, sound and image formats (static and animated), audiovisuals, graphic data and pre-printing.

b) Document formats (structured and non-structured) and management of contents, including the management of documents;

c) Technologies of web interface, including accessibility, ergonomics, compatibility, and integration of services;

d) Protocols for streaming and transfer of sound and animated images in real time, inuding the transfer, distribution of contents, and peer to peer services;

e) Protocols for email, including access to contents, extensions and services of instant messaging;

f) Geographic Information Systems, including: cartography, digital records, topography and modelling.

g) Rules and protocols for communication in information technology networks.

h) Security rules for networks, services, applications, and documents;

i) Rules and protocols for integration of information technology systems,n exchange of data, and orchestration of trading processes within interdepartmental integration.

Again, that seems a very strong requirement, covering just about everything imaginable.

Of course, one of the key areas for any policy mandating open standards is spelling out what is to be done when there simply aren't any that meet the requirements. This is something that opponents of true open standards have flung in the face of governments around the world time and again, trying to use this as an excuse not to have open standards at all. Once again, the Portuguese law sets pretty stringent requirements:

Article 6


1- If the use of open standards mandated in the text of the present act is impossible, the entities referred to in the paragraphs a) and c) of Article 2, must inform the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

2- If the use of open standards mandated in the text of the present act is impossible, the entities referred to in the paragraphs b) and d) of Article 2 must request a prior and binding opinion to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, explaining this impossibility together with an evaluation of the defended alternative.

3- The opinion, as described in the previous paragraph, must include the verification of whether there is any open format of documents, information, or data to be handled and or produced and also analyse whether:

a) There is, in progress any development project for an open solution;


b) If the format or protocol proposed is based on a completely documented specification.

4- The communication and opinions, as described in the previous paragraphs, must be published in a portal to be created by the Government, and shall contain the modality and the reasons backing the claim of an exception, as well as the risks associated with the use of the chosen format.

What this rightly does is to make it difficult for departments just to throw up their hands and say that "it can't be done" when it comes to implementing open standards: they must say in detail why it can't be done, and that reason must be available for people to see and possibly challenge.

So, that was how the law was laid down in 2011. Just recently, the National Digital Interoperability Regulation has been published [.pdf in Portuguese]. Here's what a press release from ESOP, the Portuguese Open Source Business Association, has to say on the move:

The Portuguese Government has published the National Digital Interoperability Regulation, which defines the list of open standards to be adopted in the Portuguese public administration. This framework brings to life the existing Law of Open Standards. It is part of the larger ICT reform program that aims to save 500M EUR/year while providing stimulus to the local economy.


Choices have been made and ODF is the chosen open standard for editable documents. We think this is appropriate since ODF is implemented by several different vendors, in both open source and proprietary applications, across multiple operating systems. As a truly open standard, it can be implemented by any vendor that wishes to do so. This is a choice that will save money and avoid vendor lock in.

Other standards for formats and protocols include PDF, XML, XMPP, IMAP, SMTP, CALDAV and LDAP.

The existing Law of Open Standards (Law 36/2011) sends a clear message to the market: from now on only open standards compliant products will be purchased by the public administration. ESOP has informed its members they must ensure compliance in order to bid on public tenders.

Now that the legal framework is in place we hope that the implementation of open standards in Portugal contributes to a better functioning IT market with more competition, lower prices and new opportunities for local SMEs.

As ESOP points out, this could have a big impact on local procurement. But I think it will have wider ramifications, too. As I noted when writing about Spain's open standards, it will add yet more momentum to the general move to open standards in Europe, which lends it an even greater significance, and makes it even more welcome.

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