Portugal's New Interoperability Law

Portugal's New Interoperability Law, adopted by Parliament on 29 March 2011, establishes the adoption of open standards in the computer systems of the State. Wonderful!

This law provides for the adoption of open standards for digital information in the public service, promoting technological freedom of citizens and organizations and interoperability of computer systems in the state. Right on!

The law contains a definition of open standards that is a good starting point for debates on interoperability. The definition seems to allow for recognizing fora/consortia deliverables. Great!

A long time ago, the EU granted ETSI and CEN/CENELEC monopoly on standards setting in Europe. This must now end. The EU lags behind with an outdated framework. The majority of IT standardization work is done outside of the formal European standardization system. Many EU Member States now completely ignore this provision, for quite obvious reasons: it does not make any practical sense and would shut down the Internet.

The Portuguese definition of open standards might be a bit optimistic at times, such as where it says that intellectual property rights applicable thereto, including patents, should be provided in full to the Portuguese State, but that will become immediately apparent once they start implementing the law. It is all in the subtleties.

I wonder if there is a misunderstanding somewhere. Could it be that the Portuguese Parliament fears the public sector will bear the cost of all royalty payments in connection with standards? The reality is that most of these royalties are exchanged between technology vendors and do not end up directly with the customers. Licensing costs for the usage of products or solutions in the marketplace is of course quite another matter.

Quite clearly, royalty free standards are more likely to be widely implemented and thus to provide interoperability among products from multiple vendors. Most Standards Setting Organizations (SSOs) have RAND IPR policies, but in practice many standards produced therein can be implemented without the need to pay IPR licensing fees. However, IPR owners have a right to be reimbursed for their investments in a technology. What is important is to be informed about the existence of potentially essential IPR held by SSO participants and associated licensing terms for such IPR as early as possible in the standards development process.

The implementation of the specific mandatory provision on the application of open standards in all text documents in digital form that are subject to issuance, exchange, archiving and publication, or public administration, will be interesting to follow.

The Law will be followed by a National Regulation of Digital Interoperability. The Regulation is to be created within 90 days after the entry into force of this law and subjected to a process of public discussion for a period of 30 days. The Regulation establishes deadlines for the implementation of open standards therein. The Agency for Administrative Modernisation shall monitor, supervise and coordinate technical support for implementation and compliance.

Overall, I think it looks pretty good. The exception process also seems fairly open, and the part about procurement being the point of all this is very good. Of course, everything is in the details, so it will be interesting to follow AMA's Regulation (and practice) based on this law. They should keep in mind that a good standard is not only open, but it is widely implemented. Without being put to use by the majority of the market, a standard is quite meaningless. Government procurement announcements have immediate, forward-looking effect, because government users represent some of the largest customers in the world. I took the initiative to the new Digital Agenda Stakeholder Community on Procurement, IT & Standards (PITS). PITS will be key contributors to the European Digital Agenda' s Action 23: Provide guidance on ICT standardisation and public procurement.

European interoperability convergence
The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) issued by the European Commission in December 2010 confirms that "The Digital Agenda can only take off if interoperability based on standards and open platforms is ensured". At least 17 European Member States have developed Interoperability Frameworks.
These Frameworks are now converging as part of the Digital Agenda, promising to increase open standards based interoperability. Hopefully, Portugal will contribute to the necessary European and indeed global convergence of interoperability frameworks now that national policies are increasingly serious about open standards and actually want to foster them, use them, and procure them.

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Trond Undheim, Ph.D, Director of Standards Strategy and Policy at the Oracle Corporation, speaker, entrepreneur, blogger, and author, is one of the world’s leading experts on technology and society. LinkedIn profile

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