Legal framework to shape interpretation of standards
How is the role of standardisation changing?
Allow me to open with a general remark that the main motivation for all standardisation efforts in any industry is to create a benefit for the end user. This is the reason why, in machine vision, even fierce competitors decided two decades ago to work together on standards. This has been an enormous success and standards have laid the foundation for the adoption of machine vision in so many verticals.
Since then vision technology has matured. In addition, technical developments are now often triggered from outside of the core machine vision community: ‘AI’ and ‘embedded’ are the most prominent examples. The EMVA has realised that over the past 20 years standardisation has grown organically, but a legal framework has not kept pace with standards development.
How has the EMVA reacted to this?
Intellectual property is an important aspect of standards development within the EMVA and the working groups, where many experts contribute know-how, code and maybe even patents to create the final standard. It is important for companies involved in developing a standard to have a clear legal basis for contributions. Similarly, companies that hold relevant patent IP should not have their rights reduced through participation in a standard’s development.
The EMVA’s new set of policies provides a clear legal framework for all contributions to a standard, together with any reference- or standard-testing implementations. At the same time, the policies clarify the rights and responsibilities of the working groups hosted by the EMVA.
Additional important aspects of the new policies include the commitment to ensure that companies that contribute to standards and that hold necessary patents for the standard are prepared to issue Royalty-Free, Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (RF-FRAND) licenses to users of the standard. This ensures that company IP is protected without creating barriers to adoption. The new policies suggest that a nominated group, representing both the EMVA and the working group, manage and licence the IP encapsulated in reference implementations, to protect the IP of the parties involved.
What other aspects play a role in designing these new rules?
There is also a political aspect. It is important to understand how the evolution of global standards development could affect the industry, while also seeking practical approaches to ensure the successes of the past continue. This is particularly important in a European context, as EU companies have had a lot of advantages over the last few decades – the Made in Germany label, for example, is still recognised for innovation and reliability all over the world.
It’s in this context that the role of standardisation in machine vision is entering a new period of evolution. Key commercial concerns such as liabilities, IP rights and protection, and ownership of contributions to standards, as well as keeping standards free of potential licence fees, should be addressed in a professional licence framework.
Additionally, standards play an important role in an increasingly connected world, and leadership in standards development is playing a more geopolitical role. One example that occupies the standards community is that China has published a standards 2035 roadmap, which outlines a strategy to make the country a leader in standards development, including building its own set of standards in key technologies. This could be a potential threat to all common global standardisation activities and build market barriers to outsiders that want to do business in China.
As it stands, a large number of national standards in China already have no reference to international standards. This is something that we as a relatively small machine vision community have to take into consideration. We have to protect contributors, users and EMVA IP rights, while at the same time doing everything to maintain market access for European machine vision players to all parts of the world.
What is the background behind users of the EMVA 1288 standard being asked to relicense?
This is part of the new set of rules, but also, with release 4.0 of EMVA 1288, the EMVA granted a transition period of one year for relicensing that expired in June. Therefore, since 21 June, datasheets in which data is designated as EMVA 1288-compatible and marked with the EMVA 1288 logo may only be published if the new EMVA 1288 licence has been applied for and approved by the creator of the datasheets.
I want to point out that use remains free-of-charge under the new licence, as it has been for the last 17 years. The aim is to have control over how the standard is used such that only those parties using the standard in the proper technical and legal sense are guaranteed by the licence.
Do you require something similar for GenICam?
Not exactly. The general conditions for participation in the GenICam standard working group have changed within the new legal framework, which requires a re-registration for all participating company representatives. Being the host association of the GenICam working group, the EMVA adjusted the conditions to those already established in standard working groups hosted by other associations. This involves a small fee for working group members. However, use of the GenICam logo, as well as the reference implementation, remain free-of-charge under the new licence, as it has been for the last 19 years.
All necessary application forms for relicensing can be found in the standards section of the EMVA website. These two measures for EMVA 1288 and GenICam are part of the implementation of the new standards development policies. In the forthcoming period, all current members of hosted working groups will reapply for working group membership and, through this action, will be protected by the newly adopted development policies. And there are more actions to come.
Can you specify these actions?
One major benefit of having standards is the compatibility of the services and products among those who use the standards. As such, it is the responsibility of the hosting institution to keep and maintain the compatibility level. The longer a standard is used in the market and developed the more important this issue becomes. For GenICam we intend to implement a GenICam validation framework where every user is validated in order to reconfirm the standard criteria and thus the technical compatibility of the product. This validation process will be implemented later in 2022 and through the next GenICam meetings.
Last year the EMVA and the Khronos group joined forces to develop an open, standardised embedded camera API. How has this progressed?
A very interesting aspect of this collaboration is that two different communities have been brought together. While many machine vision companies have a strong background in industrial automation, the Khronos group represents platform players, chip providers, as well as companies operating in diverse areas such as consumer devices, medical, AR/VR, and automotive technology.
We are happy to announce that an exploratory phase has been completed and a standard working group has been established with Khronos. Currently the working group consists of 71 people representing 43 companies and institutions. The cooperation between EMVA and Khronos will continue throughout the design phase, as a formal joint initiative of the two organisations. Importantly, this means that the EMVA is able to participate directly in the working group, as well as influence design development and contribute to the new standard.
This entire process represents a major new direction for standardisation in embedded vision through cooperation between leading associations and their members. The EMVA has paved the way for its members to take part in the biggest effort on embedded vision standardisation of the last decade.