IP Standards: No room for Mr. Nice Guy

Warren Savage
Bill Martin: Well, I agree with a lot of what has been said here. Standards do create markets. Without standards, there would be no markets to add value to the consumer. Go back to the big confusion over Beta versus VHS. Today, you can look at      Blu-ray versus HD-DVD. It looks like Blu-ray will take over, but people are waiting [to buy until the controversy is sorted out].

Ralph said it best: You’ve got to tie into these standards. Whether it’s USB or a file format like GDSII or OASIS, standards have helped people to be a lot more efficient. Go into any restaurant, and they’ll give you a menu to of what they can make in their kitchen, so they can order their supplies in advance. Standards are everywhere. Some are very rigid like USB, and others are more localized like that restaurant. But either way, we’ve got to have standards.


Bill Martin

Peggy Aycinena: I’m impressed with all of the noble sentiments you gentlemen have expressed here. But in truth, isn’t there really a lot of resistance to standards?

Victor Berman: Frequently, people want to keep technology proprietary and want to keep a lock on the market, whether for right or wrong. They think it’s better to keep things proprietary rather than sharing. Most of us here in this room, however, feel that there’s limited capacity [in that model] for growth.

For a market to grow, you have to have confidence that you can produce a better product based on differentiation rather than proprietary technology. Large companies with dominant market positions may be less interested in standards, because their way of doing things is the de-facto standard. [Also, some people think] to develop a true standard takes a lot of time, the technology will be watered down, or they will lose their competitive advantage.

Then there are the perceived costs [associated] with developing standards – the time element, the physical activity in terms of engineering resources plus the money. It’s expensive to implement standards because you have to change your technology to a certain extent. And, when it’s not clear that if there’s a single standard, as mentioned earlier, the equation is even more complicated. You have to guess which standard to support, or if there’s more than one standard, should you use your own internal formats and then output what you want as a translation? So, yes – there are good and bad reasons for not having standards.

Also, standards force you to deal with your competitors, to find a way to work and play well together. That’s not always easy. It’s quite complicated, particularly in some of the examples cited here. People had to give up something to work with USB, for instance. But in EDA, it’s not just function and form factor, it’s also methodology, which is even more controversial. Agreeing on particular languages or formats is very difficult. And in IP, there are lots of things that go well beyond just making things work together – documentation, efficient transport, and so on.

Warren Savage: This whole thing got started from a blog I wrote when the VSIA initiative folded. One of the tough things about IP standards: they’re not easy and it takes a lot of effort to keep things going. It’s not like SCSI or USB, where there’s an obvious evolution. As VSIA and [other such] things in the past prove, it’s hard to keep these things alive. The investment costs for IP standards are continuous and, in the case of IP in particular, it’s often big companies trying to block out small companies. [Those companies believe] standards thwart innovation, but if you define your negative space that way, it increases your positive space.

Peggy Aycinena: That sounds very New Age. [Laughter]

Warren Savage: There’s one more negative thing that might be perceived about standards. They tend to force commoditization on pricing, which often drives prices down.

Ian Mackintosh: I disagree. There is no intrinsic value in standards, but there’s infinite value to be leveraged from having standards. That’s why we have trouble with people being opposed to standards. It’s the NIH [Not Invented Here] issue, the parochial issue, and the lack-of-vision issue in terms of understanding the opportunities. [We need] education plus vision [in standards work]. There’s also time-to-market pressure, which turns a lot of people off [as far as standards are concerned]. Plus, there’s a user-focus issue, because some people need things from standards that are very different from what others need. All of this together causes conflict and fragmentation, and a fundamental fear of the complexity of issues around standards.

Ralph von Vignau: I’m a bit of a devil’s advocate here. In principle, we could live without standards. [People can say] standards stifle innovation and development, they keep people in a herd rather than keeping them imaginative. [Or they say], a level playing field? Well, I want to make an impression on the world, but that level playing field destroys individuality and destroys my drive to do new things.

Start-ups are [all about] breaking out of the world of standards. So, could we live without standards? It’s surprising, but sometimes people do. For instance, there is a railway that goes throughout Europe. It’s narrow gage on one side of a particular border, and wide gage on the other side. Obviously, however, there are certain safety factors where standards make sense. But I often wonder – and don’t get me wrong here, because I believe all of us here do good work – what would the electronics world look like if we didn’t have standards. We’d have 10 different kinds of phones. I don’t [have an answer to this dilemma], but humans are creative, yet standards are not always creative in what they cause people to have to do.

Peggy Aycinena: For the record, we’re only permitting Ralph to utter this type of heresy because he is the President of SPIRIT. Otherwise, he’d be voted off the island. [Laughter]

Bill Martin: It’s true that standards do stifle creativity in people trying new solutions. But in business, can you always make money if you do the proprietary solution? There’s often a lot more cost [associated with that route]. Apple’s a great company, as an example, and there will be a small, strong population of MAC users forever. But you pay the price if you’re one of them. It’s a more expensive computer [than a PC] and there’s a lot less people buying the software, so you pay an inherent cost for that individuality.

There’s nothing to prevent product companies from going off against a particular standard, but the overall cost of creating a market and making it a profitable venture [has to be considered]. You have to ask – do we start by going down a brand new path, or do we want to tie into existing standards and build a business out of that? The first way is very expensive – yes, there’s creativity, but if you look at the market pressures, and the dollars involved in rolling out a product and getting a following, there’s a very high price to pay for going the proprietary route.


Peggy Aycinena: Well, Apple may be a great company and their MAC and iPhone are all well and good, but I’m offended by what I see as a major lack of standards in the cell phone industry. The iPhone’s a lock-in for AT&T, and every provider requies a unique piece of hardware with no interoperability between different service providers and handsets.

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Review Article
  • Only Part of the Picture April 22, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Ron'
    This discussion shows the progress as wel as the holes in the approaches being taken to develop IP standards. That is good -since we need to see the holes to try to fix them. We will only have industry colaboration when many in a particular industry see a dollar advantage. See Victor's comment about Cadence and their decision to open up Verilog. Without that decision, the rest of the industry would have bypassed them with further intensive development of the defacto HDL at that time - VHDL. With Cadence's decision to open up Verilog, they had a chance to jump ahead and be a leader.
    There is another view of the standards technology development. That view deals with "interoperability." Interoperability development can be looked at as a "standards development motivator." There is a world-wide organization called IFIP - International Federation for Information processing. While international in its membership, it is mainly known well in Europe. They do not develop standards, but their technical activities are oriented towards design and business interaction methods. IFIP TC10 deals largely with Computer Systems Technology. IFIP TC5 deals largely with Information Technology Applications. Enterprise Interoperability, Enterprise Integration, Infrastructure for Virtual Enterprises, the Product Realization Process, are just some of the technical activities of TC5. My point here is that taking an orthoganl view of IP, the standards work mentioned in the article could be viewed as orthoganal to the technical methodologies being investigated by IFP Technical Committees. Such an orthoganal approach might help advance the IP work underway in the US.

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