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Standards, rights protection and technical policy

by Steve Kerrison on 26 September 2006, 20:16

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

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MP3s are great, aren't they? Well, they are when they actually are mp3s and they're not some other format wrapped up in all sorts of dicey DRM, whereby you can't be sure whether the 'rights holder' might decide to stop letting you use the file you thought you owned.

Technology innovation has many forces acting upon it. When the MP3 format was invented, nobody really knew just how big an impact it would have and just how much piracy would come as a result of it. Then came what some would call an overreaction. The best way to deal with content protection is just one of the forces acting on technology. There are standards, regulations and policy too. Intel's Phil Wennblom explained on Monday where the company stands within this tricky territory.

Intel: We don't want no innovation stifling!

Let's continue with the content protection thread for a moment, then. In Wennblom's presentation is a snipped from a New York Times article, published July 2002, in which it says "The entertainment industry's campaign to rally Congressional support for new copyright enforcement is yielding results" and goes on to say that some technology execs and consumer advocates weren't too happy. The entertainment industry is still bolshy about protecting its content. Some executives jump through hoops, while others sit on the same side of the fence as the consumer advocates.

Intel's stance? Some copyright enforcement methods are a threat to innovation. "Legislature should focus on unacceptable uses of technology", read's Wennblom's slideshow, while it "should not define technology requirements." So, if you spell out how technology shouldn't be used, there's still scope for innovation, but if you start defining requirements, the 'innovators' are bound by those requirements and can't... well... innovate.

Still, to keep everyone happy, Intel needs a responsible technical policy. They're moving from the old ways of policy following technology, to the opposite, where technology follows policy, but the laws and regulations are such that there's a "favourable environment for innovation".

Intel wants to embrace global standards (presumably standards it has a hand in creating), but doesn't want to see regulations with specifications that stunt innovation.

One area in which standards are extremely important is communication. The electromagnetic spectrum is seemingly a limited resource, but Intel poses the question of whether this limit is artificially imposed by certain standards and regulations.

With wireless communications ever growing, Intel's policy position is to have flexible licenses, technology neutrality and to enable new technology and uses of the radio spectrum, but without causing interference (duh).


Intel wants content protection that respects the rights of copyright holders, but gives users the flexibility that consumers would expect to have. They hit the nail on the head with the notion that markets, not mandates, dictate customer satisfaction.

So Intel's technical policy, as depicted today, looks a very smile and nod affair. Agreeable stuff, but how exactly will the balances between consumer experience and rights protection be struck? Guess we'll have to wait and see.

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