IBM threatens to leave standards bodies

IBM would like to see loopholes that allow dominant companies to abuse standards processes closed.IBM is threatening to leave organizations that set standards for software interoperability because of concerns that their processes are not always fair.

IBM is threatening to leave organizations that set standards for software interoperability because of concerns that their processes are not always fair.

IBM published a new set of guidelines it plans to follow, which include encouraging standards bodies to have rules to protect their decisions from "undue influence," a clear reference to competitor Microsoft.

IBM would like to see loopholes that allow dominant companies to abuse standards processes closed, said Bob Sutor, vice president of open source and standards. Leaving a standards organization for a lack of reforms would be a "last resort," he said.

"We see this very much as a positive, constructive policy for how we hope to engage," Sutor said.

IBM was one of the most vocal opponents of a file format created by Microsoft and approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as an international standard earlier this year.

Part of the specification, called Office Open XML, is used in Microsoft's latest Office 2007 productivity suite but has yet to be fully implemented by either Microsoft or other software vendors. OOXML is a rival to OpenDocument Format (ODF), also an international standard used in office suites such as OpenOffice.org and StarOffice.

Microsoft submitted OOXML to the ISO under a so-called Fast Track process, which some opponents believed was too rushed and resulted in a poor-quality standard. Many countries and technical experts questioned the need for another standard document format.

A draft standard OOXML was approved by ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1) in a vote that closed March 29. Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela filed appeals over its approval, but the appeals were dismissed in July. The appeals centered in part on alleged irregularities in the ISO's voting process.

In August, the ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) approved the publication of ISO/IEC DIS 29500, the official name for the OOXML specification.

IBM's new guidelines for how it will participate in standards organizations was born out of the company's frustration with OOXML, said Andrew Updegrove, an attorney with Gesmer Updegrove in Boston who studies standards and intellectual-property issues.

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