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Open Protocols/Open Standards

The open movement is striving to gain universal acceptance from stakeholders in many areas. World governments, standards organisations, commercial enterprises, NGOs, regional forums and organisations representing various chapters of the open movement are all involved in aspects of the push to open standards. Included also are concerned and interested citizens. Some very pedantic but essential work on terminology must be agreed to for a successful outcome.

The term open standard is used widely and yet it has meanings that are not widely agreed to. In some cases promulgated open standards allow for the setting and charging of licence fees and in other cases such as with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) fees and royalties may not be charged.

At the very least an open standard has to be well advertised and promoted and be readily available to all who want to use it. Its usage and assignment of rights should be clear and achievable.

The openness of any standard is subject to the will and intention of the issuing body. This takes in to account matters of specifications, ownership of rights, drafting and political considerations. In the situation where a standard is the responsibility of a formal committee it has to be decided if the standard will be published only when consensus is achieved or if it can be published on a majority decision. The processes involved in issuing open standards can be a torturous as any large scale decision-making endeavour. In those cases where open standards allow the imposition of royalties, no widely agreed principles for the scale of the fees are available. In general, there is an expectation that such royalties will be reasonable and not discriminatory. However, the expectation will differ depending on the circumstances of the person or organisation which wants to avail itself of the desired technology that has been standardised. What may be reasonable for a commercial organisation may be prohibitive for an individual or a group.

Many stakeholders are of the view that an open standard is not actually open if there are barriers such as cost and legal access provisions. Because of the wide range of circumstances and needs, it is reasonable to accept that there can be no “black and white” understanding of what an open standard must be. The best view may be that open standards are set in a gamut of varying degrees of openness.