Tuesday, September 23, 2008

IBM demands GAL at the ISO: Fallout from the OOXML affair

I posted a number of months ago, in April of this year, on the controversy that arose within the International Organization for Standardization around its fast-track procedure for approving Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) standard, and in particular over whether that company had been able to exert undue influence over the procedures of ISO. From today's New York Times, we learn that IBM - obviously one of Microsoft's biggest competitors - has announced (as a direct result of the OOXML affair) that it will "[r]eview and take necessary actions concerning its membership in standards organizations", in terms of its new corporate policy aimed at ensuring that technical standards are adopted as the result of a transparent and fair process.

The press release, entitled "To Encourage Improved Tech Standards Quality and Transparency, and Promote Equal Participation of Growth Markets in Globally Integrated Economy", makes plain the relevance of this move to the broader field of global administrative law:

The tenets of IBM's new policy are to:

- Begin or end participation in standards bodies based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies.
- Encourage emerging and developed economies to both adopt open global standards and to participate in the creation of those standards.
- Advance governance rules within standards bodies that ensure technology decisions, votes, and dispute resolutions are made fairly by independent participants, protected from undue influence.
- Collaborate with standards bodies and developer communities to ensure that open software interoperability standards are freely available and implementable.
- Help drive the creation of clear, simple and consistent intellectual property policies for standards organizations, thereby enabling standards developers and implementers to make informed technical and business decisions.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. On one hand, it seems clear that ISO already views its commitment to transparency and due process as one of the fundamental principles of the ISO system - see, for example, the Code of Ethics of the Organization, which provides, inter alia, that ISO Members are committed to "ensuring fair and responsive application of the principles of due process, transparency, openness, impartiality and voluntary nature of standardization". On the other hand, the controversy over the OOXML standard suggests that this might not be functioning flawlessly; and IBM's move is a timely reminder of how powerful private actors - including multinational corporations - can themselves be major players in increasing demand for the establishment of effective administrative law mechanisms within the institutions of global governance.

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