Should we require full disclosure by standards participants?

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When people sit around a room debating a standard, should everyone there and those who might be using the standard have the right to

  • Know who is financially supporting the people debating or creating the standards technology and documents?
  • Review all emails between the participants related to the standard?
  • Have public access to the minutes?
  • See all drafts of the standards?
  • Have the sessions videotaped and streamed out to the general public and web?

If there are multiple layers of approval, should we see this at every level, including when politicians and government officials are involved?

Why or why not? What might people be trying to hide or protect? Would it limit standards participation and does that make a difference?

Personally, I would like to know if a standard was created by equal stakeholders representing divergent and independent interests, or if the standard was essentially bought and paid for by hidden special interests.


  1. It actually cuts fairly deep.

    I am a member of the Institute of Engineering and Technology; a sort-of IEEE for Brits. It’s my professional regulatory body; paying my subscription is quite a good idea if I want employment with an outfit which remarkets professional engineering services.

    I imagine that the IET advised the British Standards Institute which way to call the UK vote on DIS29500. One voice among many, I’m sure, but usually the BSI looks to the IET for advice in relevant fields.

    I know which way the BSI voted … ‘for’ … but I don’t know what the IET’s advice was. They neither asked me nor informed me; and the BSI’s meeting was held under Chatham House Rules. No public minutes.

    The IET reminds me periodically about the need for engineers to have a strong sense of professional ethics. If it’s a question of ‘a boat-load of money’ on one hand, and ‘the public interest’ on the other, I’m supposed to decline the boatload of money and recommend the public interest.

    But in this case I know the ‘well-financed businessmen’ shouted down the ‘engineers and scientists’.

    Where did my professional institution stand ? Will I ever know ?

  2. I’ve probably beat this drum before, but I think it’s worth discussing the idea that no part of a standard should entail royalties. On the one hand, I wonder if that would stifle innovation because no one could hope for a return on their intellectual investment. But on the other hand, if I create, say, a wireless communication protocol, patent it, and then submit it to ISO and get it approved as a standard, that means I can actually control the market by giving Company A a break on their licensing deal as opposed to Company B. And if I’m also manufacturing devices that use my patented protocol, I can completely lock out competitors.

    There are RAND terms, of course, but I think there are built-in limitations on those that still impose market constraints. What would be the effect on innovation if, when a standard is *mandated*, royalties would be eliminated? If there’s no mandate, of course, one could choose to implement a patented standard (and pay the requisite royalties) or not.

    In the OOXML case, you could also probably invoke some monopoly clause that could also eliminate royalties.

    The nascent conservative in me dislikes “taking of property”, but if that property is made mandatory, different rules should apply.

  3. Ah, transparency, what a concept.

    Personally, I prefer operating in a completely open environment. There are really no good reasons why any of the proceedings of a standards initiative should be restricted to members of the organization (or, in many cases, the working

    Certainly, there is a need for private channels of communication (member restricted mailing lists, typically) for purposes of exchanging such administrative information as the weekly teleconference dial-in number (which should be restricted simply because of the cost). If there could be a live podcast of the proceedings, it would be fine with me to have them available to anyone.

    I have had the honor and pleasure of working on the development of standards in a range of organizational circumstances, ranging from open to mostly closed. Those that have been the most open seem to have produced the best results (IMNSHO).

  4. XML was designed by a self-selected group (the ERB) that closed its own discussions but recruited a peanut gallery (the Working Group) to advise. It wasn’t a cheery process but it got the job done.

    X3D is created by a consortium working with ISO that provides open mailing lists but was forced by attempts to put submarine IP into the standard to close the groups to members only. Between the significant arm-twisting from international corporations to force the groups to accept their proprietary approaches and the numerous patent troll lawsuits, eventually the only means to keep the standard royalty-free and open was to close the groups to those who signed the participation agreements.

    I like all of your ideas, Bob, but they are impractical without the participation agreements. You know that. We won’t dive here into the bitterness created by IBM’s incursions into the 3D markets that took exaclty the opposite approaches to what you advocate except to say that it can’t work both ways. Either corporations walk the walk in all standards efforts, or they quit shilling and creating the kinds of bitter butter battles that destroy any semblance of professional standards work.

    IBM needs to get the mote out of its own before starting another round of this. It is likely to a pay a high price sooner or later in loss of respect and credibility.

  5. @Len: Spell out what you mean regarding participation agreements, please. While learning from the past, I’m trying to understand what we should have in the future in the realm of standards development. Many people will have to change their practices, but we need to understand first and in detail what those changes must be.

  6. This probably would have little or no impact. I’d say the root issue is one of economic interest.

  7. It takes more space and time than this to explain in detail, Bob. These are the basics.

    A consortium membership involves signing a participation agreement that spells out the rights and obligations of members including IP conditions for submitting materials to the ongoing standards work. We had a long six months pounding those out a few years ago. The US Navy rep took the position that the only right way was royalty-free while I was holding out for RAND. I’m not a fan of RAND but it was my position that some very big guns would refuse to join if the proviso was royalty-free. I was right about that but wrong that we should allow RAND. There is enough membership to sustain the effort and enough technology that the hold outs don’t hurt the technology. The price is of course is being beaten up by the keiretsu that want to capture IP in the 3D market. ISO remains neutral but encouraged royalty-free. They manage the standards processes and the consortium manages the technical contributions. It acts as a sort of holding entity for the IP with agreements only binding members. We did have some Big Names walk out and try to create their own consortia with limited successes. The sustainability of the consortium is key to making this all work because of the need to have a legal entity act as the holding entity.

    Neil Trevett (now Khronos) was President of the BOD at that time and he wrote the agreement. So far so good.

    In contrast to the big announcements of last years, a loose confederation of liaison agreements is holding together the W3DC, OGC, Khronos, ISO etc. in advancing 3D interoperability at the grass roots level. This is working slowly but working. I’m not sure what all the conditions are. For a liaison with the W3C, the W3DC accepted the same royalty free conditions. I know that the Interoperability Forum was trying to take the position that royalty-free was the way to go, but some of its members were fighting that.

    The bad side effect in terms of transparency is that open participation (anyone can sign up and chime in) can’t be managed if the position is royalty-free. The problem is non-members can submarine submissions, so the best that can be done in kind if not type to the XML arrangements where and inner core submits and edits while an open list comments if asked. It is a bit tighter under the formal agreements. It means that formal working groups are closed to members and open lists material cannot be included. The effect of that is to keep drafts under wraps until they can be published, then the public review tends to focus on implementations where questions about that ultimately feedback into the fixes to the standard. Creating conformance tests is critical and public participation there is more open.

    It’s been a while since I looked at the agreement, so if you want to look at the agreement details, you can contact Alan Hudson at the W3DC or Anita Havele, or I can bring it up at the next BoD meeting. You may want to compare it to Khronos and some of the suggestions and feedback on the Interoperability Forum.

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