Brussels, 1 August 2007 — The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) warns that two major decisions in September will define the future of interoperability in the key desktop computing market.
FFII President Pieter Hintjens explains: “Around the world, national boards of ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) are voting on a proposal to accept ‘Ecma 376’, Microsoft’s Office format, as an international standard. The deadline is 2 September. If ISO approves this format, we believe the desktop market will be locked in to this proprietary, patented format for decades, and pay the price of monopoly.”
The FFII and others have been working with ISO bodies to clarify the problems in the format. Hintjens says, “the format has real problems, which must be corrected before, not after, a vote. The most severe of these problems is the dependency on Microsoft patents, which will block interoperability, the only purpose of a new standard.”
On 17 September the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rules on Microsoft’s appeal against a Euro 497 million fine by the European Commission, which found the software giant had abused its dominant position, blocking other firms from interoperating with its products. If the ECJ rules against the software firm, it will be forced to open its formats to competitors.
However, the FFII warns that Microsoft’s patents let it run around the Commission. Hintjens concludes, “software patents make a mockery of competition law. They give patent owners a veto over use of a claimed ‘invention’. Even with the ISO label, the consumer will be locked in. And this is the first of a gang of patented formats that Microsoft is pushing through ISO. It is ironic that while the Commission works to level the playing field using anti-trust law, the international standards process is being used to tilt it again, using software patents.”
Grokdoc explains why ISO standardisation of Ecma 376 would extend Microsoft’s monopoly: “The ISO standardization of Ecma 376 in its present state would result in an international standard that no vendor other than Microsoft could fully implement, For that reason, Ecma 376 would have “the effect of” granting Microsoft an exclusive monopoly over the high-fidelity migration of documents stored in its legacy file formats to Ecma 376 formats, a very substantial obstacle to international trade. For example, should a government procurement tender request bids for “an office software suite fully implementing Ecma 376 and capable of full fidelity in migrating any Microsoft Office file format from versions 97 through 2007 to Ecma 376,” no vendor other than Microsoft could or would have a product meeting the tender’s specification.
The FFII has worked to educate ISO national boards and ensure that they participate in a fair voting process that properly represents the community. The FFII is asking boards to vote “no” until the faults in Ecma 376 are properly corrected. An FFII petition to collect support for this campaign has collected more than 26,000 supporters.
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The FFII is a not-for-profit association, dedicated to the development of information goods for the public benefit, based on copyright, free competition, and open standards. More than 1,000 members, 3,500 companies and 100,000 supporters have entrusted the FFII to act as their voice in public policy questions concerning exclusion rights in data processing.