Sunday, April 05, 2009

Digital Sovereignty

In the past, I have mentioned how Digital Sovereignty happens to be the pet theme of my friend, Jaijit Bhattacharya of Sun Microsystems. He has finally written a small op-ed piece on this subject for Business Standard. Jaijit has done a huge amount of research on how standards are being colonized and why India must avoid the trap of standards with IPR issues if we are to preserve our digital sovereignity. He quotes the example of DVD manufacturers in China:
A very good example of the devastating effect of the current IPR regime is the case of the DVD manufacturers in China who have to pay royalty charges on each DVD player manufactured that is to the tune of 33 per cent of the retail price of the DVD player, for a video format standard that is used ($20 royalty on a player of $60). China was helpless in preventing such an unfair cess being put on its domestic industry, demonstrating its lack of digital sovereignty at that point in time.
During the OOXML debate, I had the pleasure of watching Jaijit at work inside the LITD15 committee of the Bureau of Indian Standards, which reviewed and finally voted against OOXML. Despite the massive amount of muscle power that Microsoft had invested to push OOXML down India's throat, Jaijit refused to be overawed. Using his computer science background to great advantage, he was constantly exposing the key flaws in Microsoft's proposed OOXML standard. One memory that lingers from the numerous BIS meetings is that of Jaijit, in full professorial flow, using marker pens and the whiteboard to demolish some of the key arguments in support of OOXML.

If Jaijit was all fire and brimstone, there was one person who was icy cool throughout the 18 long months and endless, argumentative meetings on OOXML. Ashish Gautam of IBM contributed immensely to the discussions with his thorough understanding of the arcane rules of ISO, that most of us were grappling with for the first time in our lives. His ability to stay focused and highlight the right point at the right time went a long way in ensuring that the loopholes in ISO's processes were not exploited by the proponents of OOXML.

Apart from Jaijit and Ashish, there were countless bureaucrats and policy makers who deserve enormous credit for ensuring that Microsoft did not ride roughshod over India's policy making bodies, but that will have to wait for another day when I have the time to write a lengthy post on how the OOXML battle was won. the time being, let me end by agreeing with Jaijit's statement that,
It is imperative for India to ensure that it is a serious player in formulating digital standards in order to ensure security of its IT industry and to maintain its digital sovereignty.
Jai ho!

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