Monday, February 26, 2007

Standardization through Interoperability - A Seminar with BIS and Microsoft

At a Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) seminar on Feb 21st in New Delhi on "IT Standardization", Mr. Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy officer of Microsoft delivered the inaugural keynote.

Curiously, no industry representative besides Microsoft was allowed to be part of the formal presentations. The BIS leadership -- Alka Sirohi (Director General), Rakesh Verma (Addl. Director General), Sukhbir Singh (Deputy Director General) along with the Secretary of Consumer Affairs Mr. Bhave -- were all present, deeply worshipful of and indebted to their chief sponsor.

Mr. Mundie zealously discussed the need for standardization through interoperability. In the digital world, standardization should no longer be thought of in terms of uniformity but rather in terms of translatability and interoperability. Mr. Mundie explained that interoperability achieved through meta description languages like XML is key to practical standardization. Single solutions that emphasize uniformity of standards are not the answer. If Microsoft really followed Mr. Mundie's advice, perhaps we'd all live in a less contentious digital world.

However, other Microsoft sponsored presentations lionized the need for IPR protection as the basis for healthy standardization -- proposing a so-called "virtuous cycle" of digital products: R&D developed IPR flows into products which then flow into the consumer market and then, through market results, back into R&D. But, somehow without the guiding hand of industry and protection of its IPR, the virtuous cycle short circuits and no innovation is possible.

Now, if I had been invited onto the dias, to keynote alongside Mr. Mundie, my presentation would have included the following. I would have congratulated Mr. Mundie on his vision for redefining standardization in the digital age. I would then have taken the opportunity to inform him of all the wonderful FOSS products, like ODF and OpenOffice, that his company could support on the road to full interoperability.

But I would have been less generous toward the IPR proponents: How can all innovation only come from absolute IP control. Today, India is at a deadly disadvantage in the IT IP regime game. India cannot be regarded as a serious contender at all. Innovation in India should be allowed from anywhere and everywhere. FOSS can provide a level playing field that allows innovation and creativity to grow from within. So why play this one-sided "Innovation = IP" game? Why lock ourselves out of the game with the rules of the leaders before we're even ready to play.

Perhaps my turn on the dias at a future BIS Seminar will come. I look forward to being their next chief guest!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Thailand caught between a rock and a hard place

In its latest efforts to promote the importance of intellectual property rights (IPR), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) recently awarded the King of Thailand HM Bhumibol Adulyadej, an avid artist and an inventor with over 20 patents and 19 trademarks - its new "WIPO Global Leaders Award". This award is intended to recognize world leaders who promote IPR in their sphere of influence at national and international levels.

Ironically, Thailand, a country of 60 million people with a per capita income of $8,300 USD, has been marked as a serious offender of IPR because of piracy and copyright infringement. Piracy accounts for a high percentage of the Thai market for movies, music (approx. 50%), software (approx.
80%), and books, most of which are produced in developed countries. The country has been targeted by IIPA's Priority Watch List for 2007 (see my post on IIPA's Special 301 report).

The Global Leaders Award may now increase pressure on Thailand to comply with WIPO rules, starting right from the top with the King.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Envisage Knowledge Sharing at IIC's FOSS Festival on Feb 24-25 in New Delhi

If you happen to be in Delhi next weekend on February 24-25th, come and visit Envisage'07, the annual inter-collegiate open source technical festival organized by the students and faculty of the Institute of Informatics and Communications (IIC), University of Delhi. A range of competitive challenges, both technical and non-technical will be held. The event is FREE - so stop by and encourage the engineering students and faculty of IIC and participating teams from all over the country. For more information check out

Thursday, February 15, 2007

India in IIPA's crosshairs!

Reading through the International Intellectual Property Alliance's (IIPA) Special 301 report... It is shocking to see an alliance of special interests declare itself judge, jury and executioner. "Comply or lose WTO/WIPO favors" is the message. The IIPA seems to think that the whole world should further the interests of its members who are primarily US organizations such as the MPAA, RIAA, AAPA and BSA.

India has made it to IIPA's "Priority Watch" list this year. Countries lucky enough to be on this list are being admonished for not doing enough to protect US Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). Should this be the highest priority for developing nations? Wealthy nations like the US must use their vast repetoire of IPR to improve the state of the world instead of hoarding all knowledge for their own gain.

Monday, February 5, 2007

At GNUnify 2007 in Pune

GNUnify, the annual open source symposium of Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research (SICSR), Pune was held this year on January 27-28. I had the pleasure of speaking there and very much enjoyed being in Pune again. The students of SICSR along with Harshad Gune, their professor and organizer of GNUnify '07, were again in great form and did a fabulous job in pulling together good talks on interesting topics.

I always feel that Pune has a special buzz especially when it has to do with open source. Students from many colleges and developers from local IT companies such as Infosys, Red Hat, Persistent, Thoughtworks, Celunite all join in to make GNUnify successful. The Pune LUG is also refreshingly participatory and conducts very successful install fests!

Despite the long weekend for Republic Day, GNUnify was packed with FOSS fans, enjoying every thing about the event. Community, collaboration, and entrepreneurial ideas were highlights of the event. A lot of hallway conversations, ideas and FOSS project discussions added to the energy.

Looking forward to next year!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Creative Commons India Launch

I had the opportunity to be in Mumbai for the launch of Creative Commons in India on January 26th, 2007 - India's Republic Day. Many free and open source activists from across the country gathered at IIT Bombay along with industry leaders such as Nandu Pradhan of Red Hat and academic leaders such as Dr. Deepak Phatak. The launch generated a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

Joichi Ito (chairman of Creative Commons) and Catharina Maracke (international legal advisor for Creative Commons) led the inauguration. Joi was awesome. He talked about his interaction with media companies and governments who are on the DRM bandwagon and how technologies including open source software were key in a paradigm shift towards more choice for creators and consumers of music, movies, and knowledge. Dr. Phatak expressed his interest in promoting the CC licenses for content. He felt these licenses are a better fit for knowledge than some software oriented licenses.

My thanks to Dr. Shishir Jha of IIT Bombay for organizing the launch festivities in conjuction with IIT's Tech Fest and making India the 35th country to join Creative Commons.