domingo, 11 de noviembre de 2012

Standards and Patents (Educating colleagues)

Usually, I do not write twice about the same thing. And usually I am not very disciplined about blogging.

However, after my last blog entry, I have had multiple twitter interaction with a twitter user (@DrPantera). And finally I have decided that I have to post something that should serve as general standards education.

I want reproduce every interaction (which, by the way are in Spanish) but just give some general ideas. During our twitter discussion this user said:

  • Only Microsoft can implement ISO/IEC 29500.
  • It is nonsense standardizing a tool that only one company can implement.
I think both assertions are false. Firstly, I will explain why.

ISO/IEC 29500 defines a set of standard files format. So, it is not appropriate to speak about implementing the ISO/IEC 29500. What somebody can implement is a tool to produce, read, process, render (or whatever) files in such a format.

Anyway, the real argument was that as some parts of the format are protected by patents, only the patent holder (Microsoft in this case) can implement it. I argued, that another company could license the patent. The counterargument is that only licensed companies would implement. That's right, that is how business work.

As the discussion was going on. I thought that instead of speculating the right thing was to go the right source: ISO.

Reading this page about Standards and Patents in the ISO Website was crystal clear:

First: ISO, IEC and ITU have a common patent policy. I am not a lawyer, read it yourself to be sure. However what I interpret in short is that if a deliverable contains provisions depending on a patent there are 3 options: either the patent holder agrees to negotiate licenses free of charge or the patent holder agrees to negotiate licenses with charge or the provisions are removed from the deliverable. In all cases license negotiations need to be on a nondiscriminatory basis on reasonable terms and conditions.

Second: What model applies to ISO/IEC 29500? Well in the same page there is en Excel file with all the current standards and associated patent holders. OK. What doest it says about 29500? There are patent notes at the name of Microsoft and the entry is marked with an "F".

What does the "F" means. Literally: <"F" = Prepared to grant a license free of charge>.

By the way, according to the same sources:
  • ISO/IEC 14496-14 (MP4) is related to a patent from Apple (US Patent numbers 6,134,243,6,453,355).
  • ISO/IEC 15444-3 (JPEG) is related to a patent from Apple (6,134,243).
  • ISO/IEC 32000-1 (PDF) is related to a patent from Adobe Sytems Incorporated 
  • ISO/IEC 11172 series (MP3) is related to patents from very long list of companies.
  • ISO/IEC 14496-10 (MP4) is related to patents from another long lsit of companies.
Most of those patentes do not have the "F", so you need to negotiate a patent licensing and eventually pay for it.

There is an important point on all this. There are some things that we have been forgetting for a long time in Higher Education of Computer Professionals.

FIRST: An engineer must always be as agonostic as possible. This means that if possible he/she must go to the right sources to get the right information. Moreover, making claims only based on available date is included both in IEEE and ACM code of Ethics.

SECOND: Understanding of standards is essential to any Computer or Software Engineer these days. It is important to understand the technical issues in the standards. But as I have shown this is not enough. It is important also to understand which is are the rules of standards bodies, how different stakeholders are represented (or sometimes underrepresented) in standardization, which are the standardization procedures.

THIRD: A basic knowledge of law is also very important. I have shown here that sometimes national laws may enforce the use of a standard. It is also very important that we as engineers are able to understand the implications of intellectual property and the role of patents (where applicable).

And coming back to our code of ethics, I feel that this post is writteng according to item 10 of IEEE Code of Ethics (to assist colleagues and co-workers in their professional development and to support them in following this code of ethics), and similar provisions in the ACM code of ethics and in the ACM Software Engineering Code of Ethics.

IMPORTANTE NOTICE: If you find that anythin of this post is not true or has any inacurracy, please, contact me and I will correct it inmediately.

domingo, 4 de noviembre de 2012

Standards and Open Standards

When I write something about standards, usually is about C++. This post is not the case, so if you were reading this looking for C++ info, stop now.

A few hours ago, a good friend of mine (@jmdodero) wrote this tweet:

El MAP dice que docx es abierto! Standards for ES Public Administrations …

In English: "The Spanish Public Administration ministry says that docx is open! Standards for ES (Spanish) Public Adminstrations". The link points to an official document from the Spanish Government approving the Technical Standard of Standards Catalogue Interoperability. In essence this document establishes a list of standards to be used for the Spanish Public Administration.

I'll save you the legal details. However one of the items in the list is:

  • Category: File formats - Image and/or Text.
  • Common Name: Strict Open XML
  • Formal Name: ISO/IEC 29500-1:2012 Information technology -- Document description and Processing languages -- Office Open XML File Formats -- Part 1: Fundamentals and Markup Language Reference - Strict
  • Type: Open
  • Version (minimum accepted): 2012
  • Extension: docx, xlsx, pptx
A few minutes later. I answered:

ISO/IEC 29500-1:2012 y ECMA-376. Las dos públicamente disponibles = estándar abierto. ¿Cuál es el problema?

In English:

IOS/IEC 29500-1:2012 and ECMA-376. Both publicly available = open standards ¿What is the problem?

I should not be a typical suspect. I mean, I run a Linux laptop and 2 android devices. Many know that I think that the best editor is vi (vim is ok, too) and a really like LaTeX. However in a few minutes I got the following answers:

  • @jdgarciauc3m when you save a document in MS Office 2010 […] you are not saving them in the advertised OpenXML format This document will hence NOT be properly readable by other software
  • @jdgarciauc3m que no existe ninguna implementación del standard, ni siquiera MS Office lo soporta
    • There exists no implementation of the standard, even MS Office does not support it.
Well, I thought that it was time to clarify what a I think. I'll try to do so:

Question 1: Is ISO/IEC 29500-1:2012 an open standard?

Well, this is the easiest question. By definition any ISO/IEC standard is an International Standard. I could explain this in more detail, but for now let's agree on this.

The definition of "Open Standard" is "a standard that is publicly available". As any other ISO standard, ISO/IEC 29500-1:2012 is available from

Question 2: Does MS Office 2010 fulfill the ISO/IEC 29500-1:2012?

I hope not.


It is almost impossible that a product shipped in 2010 fulfills a standard that has been approved in 2012. The only possibility I see is that people at Microsoft had a time machine. And, I do not think they have (otherwise sometimes they would have made different business decissions), but, paraphrasing Michael Ende, that is a different story and must be told in a different time.

Question 3: If there is no existing implementation of the standadrd does it make sens to put it in the catalogue?

Yes. Let me explain why.

First. No one implements a file format. What one can implement is a tool for processing files (generate them, render them, ...) in such a format. However it may be true (I do not know and I do not mind), that no existing tool correctly processes the format.

What the Spanish official document is saying is that if a public agency wants to receive text documents from another public agency or a citizen, it must say which formats is willing to accept. By the way, ODT (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) , PDF (ISO/IEC 32000-1:2008) and PDF/A(ISO/IEC 19005-1:2005 and ISO/IEC 19005-2:2011) are also in the same list.

So, the point is. We have a format in the list and when some tools are available it is possible that an agency includes in the list that format.

I still do not see the problem.