Free filesystems?

Picked up on the article by Brain Kahin thanks to simon, Brian is a Senior Fellow at the Computer & Communications Industry Association in Washington

It does raise the question for me about what we should be doing about propreitary file formats. After spending some time ensuring open standards for our documents, do we need to start paying attention to filesystems. the question is what should government do, if anything at all.


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This past year has been marked by a raising in the tension between the traditional incumbent monopoly software players and the rising champions of the Free Software movement in Africa. The flashpoints of conflict have been particularly marked around the development and adoption of open standards and growing concerns about software patents. I will touch briefly on these two areas a little later. That these tensions are surfacing now is in many ways a good sign.

It is a sign that the Free Software movement, including FOSSFA, is starting to be successful in its mission of promoting the use of Free Software in Africa. Nevertheless we must be cautious not to let these tensions boil over to the point that they poison the prospect of building a shared commitment to the ongoing development and wellbeing of the people of our continent. In our deliberations this week we might do well to emulate that spirit of dialog which was developed amongst the South Africans who met here twenty years ago.

Ongoing dialogue

Government needs to be open to ongoing dialogue with stakeholders, particularly in terms of the development of regulations and the implementation of the new legislation, in order to avoid unintended negative consequences and to improve buy-in and early compliance.

Government support for IP development and its exploitation through innovation needs to be seen as an ‘all of government’ initiative and applicable to all South African sectors: The cross-cutting nature of IP as one aspect successful innovation needs to be recognised.

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Related to the above, the various government departments should develop education initiatives for their sectors, with content focussing on the importance of understanding, and compliance with, IP legislation in that sector.


The Contracting Parties,

Recalling the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Declaration of Principles which states that “[i]nternational standards aim to create an environment where consumers can access services worldwide regardless of underlying technology,”

Recognizing that standards are increasingly global concerns, involving goods and services that move in international trade across borders,

Aware that current competition and legal remedies may not be enough to solve the inherent tensions that routinely arise in the realm of patents and standards,

Desirous of encouraging procurement policies that require evaluation of multiple, competing products based on open ICT standards in order to ensure a level playing field for vendors, governments and consumers,

Cognizant of the need for procurement policies for software programs that are predicated upon an open standard,

FOSS CIO workshop

I am attending the SITA FOSS workshop for CIO’s.

it has been interesting so far,



DATE: 25 February 2009


08:30 Registration and refreshments

09:30 Opening remarks

10:00 FOSS Implementation proposals

10:30 Government Wide Enterprise Architecture


Migration experiences: Institutions in at different stages of migration were invited tobe part of the panel that will discuss their experiences.

11:30 Tea break

12:00 FOSS stack in SITA’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO)


ECM: SITA’s implementation of ECM, Alfresco Pilot

programme at DST, and Meeting National Archives criteria

13:00 Lunch

14:00 FOSS Skills Development

14:20 Role to be played by the FOSS centres of expertise

14:50 Feedback on questionnaires completed

The international collaboration

International assistance with regard to achieving the above mentioned objectives is available. To ensure that South Africa’s and Africa’s concerns and needs in these fields are properly articulated and addressed in international fora ,it is crucial that relevant SA stakeholders be consulted before any international negotiations in order to agree and receive approval of an official SA position; and that sub-regional and regional preparatory consultations are then held in order to agree African common positions. The same applies mutatis mutandis to approaches for bilateral assistance such as that provided by JICA, NITE, WIPO etc.

The international collaboration commenced at this seminar between Japan, WIPO and South Africa is strongly welcomed by all participants and South African participants expressed their hope that it will continue and culminate in practical collaboration and projects.

South Africa needs substantial reform

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It was recognised that the current patent system in South Africa needs substantial reform. It must be open and searchable by all. It is currently a ‘registration’ system that is harming innovation in South Africa. A system for ensuring that new innovation is patentable, including a search system prior to grant is crucial. Collaboration with other patent-granting authorities will be important to developing the South African System. The meeting therefore welcomed the input and advice of the Japanese colleagues at the seminar.

The mandate of Government is to improve the lives of its citizens. The exploitation of IP should be considered in the widest sense and firstly for the social good and not only in terms of financial and commercial exploitation.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

Busy preparing for Friday’s meeting on procurement. There are lots of good documents to refer to, so putting together a procurement guideline should not be too difficult. One challenge that we will not overcome through this process is Procurement dressed up as a partnership. We have seen many state agencies enter into deals where they initially receive software at no charge for a year or two and then are expected to pay for it. The department or agency is locked into the product by then. Hopefully those departments will look at the guidelines even when they are approached with “free” software.

Indigenous knowledge systems

Indigenous knowledge systems and designs are intellectual property and an alternative system to ensure their protection needs to be urgently put in place over and above the protection that is provided by the current legislation and common law.

We need to recognise that there are many criticisms of the IP system, recognised within South Africa, and that ‘open-source’ systems in IT and modern genetics, which are not currently addressed through the new IPR Act, may be as effective as the traditional IP system in encouraging innovation.

There are some areas of basic science research (like the human genome project, and open standards for interoperability i.e. ODF) that are recognised by the international community to be of such importance that they should be placed in the public domain. South Africa has contributed to some of the work within these fields. There is widespread concern that the current legislation would dissuade the international community from collaborating with SA.

Nevertheless, in many areas of endeavour, the copyright and patent system are important in encouraging innovation in that they enable the availability of venture capital and therefore the exploitation of the ‘know-how’ or IP.

Intellectual Property

The regulations under the new (or forthcoming) legislation for the protection of Intellectual Property in South Africa need to take account of the points made above.

The workshop recognised that introduction of the current legislation is only one step towards creating an IP environment that provides considerably greater levels of encouragement in SA for both the development and the exploitation of innovation for the good of all its citizens: It will also be necessary to align future legislation and related regulations (including that related to the structure and organisation of the various implementation and regulatory bodies) to this. Government’s capacity to effectively implement, monitor and enforce IP related legislation will also be critical to achieving the desired goals.