Last week, I attended the The 7th International Conference on STANDARDIZATION and INNOVATION in INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (SIIT2011) in Berlin hosted by Berlin Institute of Technology (a.k.a. Technical University Berlin) and Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems.
This conference comes at an interesting time in the standardization debate and there are three undercurrents in this debate
a) The EU standardization package with the notion that standards from EU bodies should have some form of preference in EU standardization
b) The inclusion of IPR in standards, a perennial debate in all recent standardization events
c) Both of the above are tied to the third theme – innovation. Innovation was the third undercurrent in this conference. There was even talk of ‘first mover advantage’ for standards and ‘fast standards’. Both of which are a curious anomaly when you look at standards historically i.e. by that I mean words like ‘fast moving’ and ‘first mover’ are not normally applied to the placid world of standardization
Let us start with innovation and three events that occurred at the same time in the ICT world
a) Joe Hewitt, the creator of Firefox posted a sad but insightful post saying the Web is dead unless it gets a new owner
b) The passing away of Steve Jobs
c) The impact of mobility – The iPhone has made mobile cool but it has also raised the profile of IPR in mobile devices
If we explore these further,
a) Joe Hewitt: In his post (link above), Joe Hewitt argues that: The Web has no one who can ensure that the platform acquires cutting edge capabilities in a timely manner (camera access, anyone?). The Web has no one who can ensure that the platform makes real developers happy and productive. The Web has no one to ensure that it is competitive with other platforms, and so increasingly we are seeing developers investing their time in other platforms that serve their needs better.. The arrogance of Web evangelists is staggering. The counterpoint to this discussion is: The web is only interesting because it is a standard. However, whichever way you look at it, the discussion of standards and innovation is at the heart of innovation and developers i.e. if standardization is not fast enough, it risks becoming irrelevant. To move faster, we need to look at the opposite end of standardization i.e. innovation. Innovation needs incentives and IPR and patents provide that incentive -which brings us to the second point above i.e. the passing away of Steve Jobs.
b) Steve Jobs: The world mourns the death of Steve Jobs. The guardian claims that Steve Jobs has ushered in a new form of capitalism - The Telegraph asks: Where will we find the next Steve Jobs? and the New York times and the New York times posts a beautiful, browsable graphic of Steve Jobs’s 317 patents .
Steve Jobs impacted many domains of the ICT industry, but most recently through the iPhone, Steve Jobs’s legacy will have a lasting impact on innovation for mobile devices. The impact of the iPhone and it’s shifting of the IPR scene for mobility is the third development which impacts the standards discussion
c) The impact of mobility – The iPhone has made mobile cool but it has also raised the profile of IPR. Mary Meeker says that we are at the cusp of the fifth computing cycle and that mobile devices will surpass PCs and other wireline devices. Many people, including me, have long been discussing this ‘cross over’ and its implications. The cross-over point would come around 2014. IDC said the total number of Internet user will grow from 2 billion in 2010 to 2.7 billion in 2015, with 40 percent of the world’s population online.
Obviously, Mobile is important and some would argue that it is more important than the Web itself (to the extent of influencing the future direction of the Web). When the ‘Web meets mobile’ we have two implications: Firstly, the Open vs. Closed argument which has long been talked of but secondly, the IPR implications. While most companies such as facebook agree that within 1-2 years, they would be a mobile company, (tcrn.ch/q5ZH4C). most analysts agree that to be a player in mobility today, you have to be a major player in intellectual property (Wanna be a mobile player? Get ready to spend on IP ) and that the value of intellectual property has never been higher in the market (Intellectual Property And Patents Are BIG BUSINESS – All By Themselves)
In a sense, this is not new. Standards like GSM have always included IPR but it has been a closed club of players who cross licensed IPR but shared it with each other to keep others out. This created a successful standard (like GSM) but today, that approach may be too restrictive.
This explains the value and litigation related to IPR in the mobile industry today. Nowhere is this apparent than with Android. History may look at Android as the tech industry’s Helen of Troy: The OS that launched a thousand suits. (Patent madness! A timeline of the Android patent wars). While at SIIT, we heard that the patent cloud surrounding Android isn’t lifting even with the Motorola acquisition and its top manufacturer (Samsung) signs up with Microsoft by agreeing to pay royalties for Android (Samsung shows lack of confidence in Google)
Based on the above background, let us now consider the two questions of EU standards bodies and IPR within standardization and the complexity involved
1) Policy makers have to balance a number of considerations: Innovation, Local needs (EU), Social good – need of the public and the rate of change
2) To quote another Jobsian quote: A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be – Wayne Gretzky. The puck is definitely going towards ‘Mobile’ and here IPR has historically had a role to play
3) These discussions of competing/collaborating are normal and we see them in the Open Source community as well. There is a discussion brewing in the Open source community as to – who contributed most to hadoop. Yahoo/Hortonworks claims that they are the major contributors but Mike Olson of Cloudera disagrees. (Who Wrote Hadoop? It’s the Community, Stupid. ). Also, Rackspace to spin off Open stack project to a foundation and PhoneGap to become an Apache project as Adobe acquires Nitobi. All three push the limits of collaboration in the open source community.
4) Industry leaders such as Samsung and HTC are entering into IPR agreements for android but also companies like Samsung are hedging their bets by joining Intel to help develop Tizen, a new OS that merges MeeGo and Limo.
5) The position to limit / prefer EU bodies only for standardization is complex and confusing. Even on the stage, there were clear conflicts within EU mandated standards bodies and with national standards bodies. The three EU bodies CEN – European Committee for Standardization (CEN), CENELEC – European Committee for Electrotechnical Standards and ETSI – European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) had a view but DIN – Deutsches Institut für Normung – the German national standards body – which was a member of CEN had a different position – and a conflict due to its membership at EU level (CENELEC) vs. national level(Germany)
In light of the wider speed of the industry (ex Joe Hewitt emails) and considering that we have a recession, many of the issues of restricting standards bodies seemed surreal and out of place. If diversity reduces risk, then variety is better when it comes to standards bodies.
Comments welcome as usual