BSA and FSF Clash Over European Interoperability Framework


Jessica Thornsby

BSA champions licenses that allow inventors to charge royalties, while FSF recommend software based on Open Standards.

The Free Software Foundation Europe have obtained a letter sent by the Business Software Alliance (BSA) to
the European Commission, in which they urge the EC to remove
Section 5.2.1 of the European Interoperability Framework.

The European Interoperability Framework (EIF) consists of
recommendations which specify how Administrations, Businesses and
Citizens communicate with each other within the EU and across
Member States borders. The European Commission is currently in the
process of revising the EIF, and the Free Software Foundation
Europe has been pressing the EC to revise it in a manner that would
show open standards a degree of preference, while the BSA has spent
its time lobbying for proprietary standards.

In the letter, the BSA encourages the EU to avoid showing a
preference for royalty/patent-free specifications, claiming that
doing so would discourage companies from contributing innovations
to standardisation. They disagree with the framework’s definition
of an open specification, and point out that many “widely-deployed
open specifications incorporate patented innovations that were
invented by commercial firms.” Therefore, showing a preference for
standards that are “freely implement(able)” will ultimately damage
the innovativeness of Europe standards, in the BSA’s opinion.

The Free Software Foundation Europe have responded by pointing out that zero-royalty
licensing can in fact include patented technologies in the
standards – although, of course, no royalties can be claimed. They
also believe that zero-royalty patent licensing policies will
actually encourage participation in software standard-setting, and
that standards, by their very nature, encourage innovation by
stabilising the platform in question. The Free Software Foundation
Europe questions the logic that preventing patented technology from
entering standards, would be de-motivational to the innovator, as
they are “already receiving an incentive through a patent” – do
they really have that much more to gain by having that patent
included in a standard?

So, what licensing policy does the BSA champion? In their letter
to the EC, they present (F)RAND as the licensing policy that will
encourage innovation by allowing inventors to charge a “reasonable
fee” when their technologies are incorporated into specifications.
The Free Software Foundation isn’t a fan, and views (F)RAND as
detrimental to the cause of Free Software. Most “widely used” Free
Software licenses do not allow inventors to impose additional
conditions on downstream recipients, including such fees as
described in the letter. This means that, for the Foundation,
(F)RAND and free software are incompatible: “Zero-royalty means
that if certain technologies are mandated by a standard, they must
be available to everybody without requiring running royalties.”
But, the crux of the BSA’s argument, is that with no royalties
there is no motivation for inventors to contribute to

The Free Software Foundation finish with a recommendation that
the EC does not give “incumbent dominant companies an additional
lever to maintain their control of the market” by endorsing (F)RAND
licensing policies for software standards. They advise the EC to
recommend software based on Open Standards – which they define as
standards that “can be implemented and shared under different
software licensing models.” BSA’s request is eerily similar: they
recommend the Commission amend Section 5.2.1 to include an
endorsement of (F)RAND, in order to encourage innovation within
software standards.

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