Microsoft’s Office standard plan gets legal parsing

Standards body ECMA International is expected to vote this week on Microsoft’s Office Open XML standard submission. But the analysis on the “terms of reference” for the proposed committee has already begun.

Groklaw reprints large portions of the documents submitted to ECMA, which the blogger received from “a reliable source.” Her conclusion: “The terms are, on their face, disturbing.” In his blog, attorney Andy Updegrove issues a more negative commentary. Updegrove is a partner at Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove and is the attorney for OASIS, the standards body behind the OpenDocument productivity application format.

When discussing the standard proposal, Microsoft executives said that the XML-based formats submitted to ECMA compatibility are designed to be compatible with existing Microsoft Office documents. Judging from the terms reprinted in both blogs, it’s clear that backward compatibility is a high priority. Overall, Updegrove, who also received the terms from an unnamed source, finds the proposed charter problematic and argues that Microsoft is trying to get its XML Office formats “rubber stamped” by ECMA and then ISO.
“I would submit that such a request is not consistent with the role of a standards body, but rather the diversion of an organization created to serve the needs of an industry to the unique demands of a single vendor. Were Ecma to be based in the United States, I would not be surprised if accepting such a charter would result (if discovered by the IRS) in the loss of the standards developer’s tax-exempt status,” he wrote.

Both Updegrove and Groklaw also indicate that there is no explicit explanation of intellectual property rights. Microsoft has issued a “covenant” not to sue others over their use of the document formats. And both also questioned how “open” the standards-creation process would be to outside companies in ECMA.

A vote on the proposed committee is expected this week. Representatives from ECMA and Microsoft were not available for further comment.


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