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What Will and Won't Be Discussed at February's BRM on MSOOXML
Tuesday, December 11 2007 @ 06:24 AM EST

Alex Brown has now written up a FAQ on the ballot resolution meeting scheduled for February over MSOOXML, "Frequently Asked Questions regarding DIS-29500 Ballot Resolution Meeting", over which he will preside. The FAQ informs us that National Bodies need to send in their list of delegates by December 11, or they likely won't be let in to the February meeting. That is today, folks. Here's what will and won't be discussed:
4.1 Will IPR issues be discussed at the BRM?
No. IPR issues in this process are the exclusive preserve of the ITTF. IPR decisions have previously been delegated by all the ISO and IEC members (NBs) to the CEOs of IEC and ISO, and they in turn have examined them and found no outstanding problems. NBs seeking reassurance in such matters must pursue them through other avenues than the BRM.

4.2 Will questions of policy and “contradiction” be discussed at the BRM?
No.

4.3 What will be discussed at the BRM?
The BRM is a technical meeting which will address the comments made by NBs in their 2 September ballot returns, and Ecma’s responses to them. Since the meeting will emit a sequence of editorial instructions to the DIS 29500 project editor, any deliberations which cannot result in such instructions are out of order.

So if you had concerns about Microsoft's patent policy, forgeddaboudit.

It's been magically erased, and any comments are out of order. If they only allowed technical comments, they probably should have mentioned that to the National Bodies participating, I would think. And if "the CEOs of IEC and ISO" as he says "have examined them and found no outstanding problems", perhaps there is some rationale or explanation as to why there are no outstanding problems?

The FAQ says this is what to do if you have questions:

The rules governing the Ballot Resolution Process for DIS 29500 are published in the ISO/IEC JTC 1 Directives. This document is an informative guide to the process, intended to clarify the procedures and supply additional supporting information. Any queries on this document in particular, or the ballot resolution process in general, should be addressed to the ISO/IEC JTC 1 SC 34 Secretariat, who administers the procedure.

You should probably not wait for February, as you will be out of order. Oh, and it's all done in perfect secrecy, no press or observers allowed:

No, press and observers may not attend, and the meeting may not be recorded or broadcast in any way.

They have chosen a room that can seat only 120 people for reasons unknown, so there may not be room for all the delegates. Let me guess. The head of the delegation is a Microsoft guy, and the ones who can't fit in the room are the ones who have issues with the proposed format? You think? Hey, some of us remember the games that were played already over rooms too small for IBM and Sun.

This is starting to look really, really bad. At a minimum, you have to say this is the very opposite of an open process. I can't help but notice too that Brown lists Rick Jelliffe's as one of the "cool blogs" he recommends on Brown's blog. I think that is what novelists would call foreshadowing.

I was curious to see how many countries made comments regarding patents or other IPR concerns. I visited ISO.Vote.com and went down the list. There are a lot of comments, so I may have missed some, but I count 14 countries that included that issue in their comments. Here's a sampling of some of those concerns:

Australia:
ISO and IEC need to ensure all appropriate intellectual property declarations are followed and that any material referenced in the document is appropriately available to users of the document.

Bulgaria:
To be ensured/guaranteed non-alignment and independence of ISO/IEC 29500 from the corporative patents and licenses

Greece:
1. Patents and Patent policy.

We do not think that comments should address only the text of the Standard itself. This important document will be given to end-users and implementers and they may find themselves tied to various patents, and property rights owned by the company that proposes this Standard.

While Microsoft, the originator of the document, has promised not to sue implementers of the specification (and this may reflect a good intention of the originator), a large fraction of it is nevertheless covered by patents owned by Microsoft. Since Microsoft still holds these patents and has not done anything to make them legally invalid for Open Source use, it is unclear whether this promise is trustworthy. It is at least not trustworthy enough to build a business on. More than that, Microsoft made its promise on the OOXML version 1.0, leaving anything possible for any future version that may follow in a short time.

Proposal: Following the patents policy of ISO, together with the expressed intention of Microsoft, a full and clear statement must be issued by Microsoft, according to the ISO procedures, infringing on the affected patents, or even the entire OOXML implementation, under a free reusable license, such as the Lesser GPL (LGPL). This gives implementers the irrevocable right to implement the OOXML specification. As an alternative, Microsoft should offer officially, through ISO, a patent promise, that unambiguously permits open source use, and unambiguously covers the present and all future versions of OOXML.

India:
Need more clarity on the Open Specification Promise of Microsoft which claims it wont assert patent claims against those implementing OOXML.

New Zealand:
All issues relating to IP, patents and access shall be examined in depth and irrevocable agreement obtained from Microsoft that all required access to information will be provided without monetary consideration, potential treat of legal action or issues relating to copyright. The provision of such information shall not be delayed or withheld.

Peru:
OpenXML includes references to Windows functions that can be protected by intellectual propriety of Microsoft, for example reference to EMF and WMF (windows formats), but does not include references to PNG (Open standard format) used in Linux.

Poland:
Possible IPR infringes

Portugal:
Include at beginning of specification a list of all Microsoft and non-Microsoft CNS's or OSP's that might help clarifying the legal background for implementing the specification and that will help ensuring full protection for the implementer, mentioning any issues regarding patents, royalties and copyrights whenever necessary.

Consider replacing the promise-not-to-sue approach by a patent grant, which translates better to the existing legislation.

As pointed out in the previous item, and as per the MOSP (Microsoft Open Specification Promise), only the Specifications included in that promise (Covered Specifications) are covered. It is therefore of the essence to add after the previous item that any future revisions of the original specification are equally included in that promise.

South Africa:
Even for a highly technical document the proposed standard is extraordinarily convoluted, idiosyncratic and lengthy, making any attempt at compliance difficult. Failure to comply by a developer may however expose the developer to an intellectual property infringement claim.

Switzerland:
Microsoft should publish a stronger “open specification promise” which is not limited to only the “required” portions of covered specifications.... Richard Stallman, the author of the GPL and LGPL licenses, has publicly stated that relying on Microsoft's promise (this presumes accepting Microsoft's patents as valid) would violate the GPL (see http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1829728,00.asp ).

Stallman's remarks apply equally to the LGPL, the relevant provisions of which are identical to those in the GPL. Microsoft's website addresses the question of the GPL compatibility of the “Open Specification Promise” by refusing to take position on this question, stating only that the GPL “is not universally interpreted the same way by everyone” and “based on feedback from the open source community we believe that a broad audience of developers can implement the specification(s).” While it is certainly true that free software and open source licenses exist which are compati-ble with Microsoft's promise, the primary question is whether DIS 29500 can be implemented in derivative works of the LGPL-licensed OpenOffice software. It is not fair if only Microsoft can implement the standard directly in their office software while competitors have to use a different format internally and must rely on document format conversion utilities. ... Microsoft should, in addition to the “open specification promise”, make any relevant patents it controls available under a license which is clearly compatible with GPL and LGPL.

US:
The use of proprietary file formats within the Office Open XML standard appears to cause potential intellectual property ownership concerns.

Three other countries listed it as an item of concern, Colombia, Denmark, and Iran. Iran raised another issue that I assume will also be deemed "out of order", and it was echoed by South Korea:

Iran:
The values defined for elements is for use on Windows or Mac OS platforms and they are not usable for Linux or any other operating system.

South Korea:
Platform dependency: DIS 29500 lacks supports for other platforms and browsers. It restricts the use of Linux platform and browsers such as FireFox, Opera and Safari


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