When Did Standards Bodies Go Wrong? OMA and DRM

The best way to organize a standard body, and the way many historically have been operated, is such that participating companies donate their intellectual property (IP) into the standard, and argue it out among the members how to use the IP from each of them to arrive at a useful compromise solution. The benefits of donating IP into standards are: i) the more of a donor’s IP that gets used, the more of a headstart it has on the market, ii) the donor is perceived as a thought leader, iii) and most importantly, the mere existence of a standard is expected to raise the tide significantly, thus floating all boats (ex: Wi-Fi). But somewhere along the line, standards bodies went wrong… These days, it appears that standards bodies are routinely abused as strategic battlegrounds to slow down opponents with filibuster-like behavior (ex: Qualcomm at 802.20), to promote and market a solution type and stifle other good ideas (ex: Intel and 802.16), to argue incessantly and grind a good technology to a halt (ex: UWB), and most detrimental: to insert IP with the hope/expectation of receiving a king’s ransom in royalties once the standard is set. It is from the latter ailment that the OMA’s Anti-Piracy DRM standard is festering. The Open Mobile Alliance has released a widely-anticipated standard for mobile DRM, but the industry is reacting with shock at the royalty cost to use the DRM solution, which has been set at $1 per handset. The $1, which is paid to the members that inserted (but not donated) their IP into the solution, is way out of proportion for a trivial piece of handset code that isn’t even desired by the customer. In fact, with $684M phones shipped last year, a $1 per phone fee would exceed all the revenues for digital music sold on the WWW! Techdirt proposes two things: i) Let’s return to standards bodies that require a release of all royalty rights to contributed IP, and ii) if anyone has to pay for DRM that the customers DON’T WANT, let the RIAA pay the fee!! Update by Mike: This is pretty much what we predicted last month. All the OMA DRM does is make a device more expensive while making it less valuable to consumers at the same time. I also take issue with the reporter’s repeated claim that somehow this standard is “needed.” Says who? Mobile phones are catching on around the world at an amazing rate. Mobile data is being used increasingly as well — and most of it is for communication, not to suffer through some broadcast style content.

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