Interoperability is a cornerstone of the ICT industry. In today’s networked ICT environments, devices do not function purely on their own, but must interact with other programs and devices. A device that cannot interoperate with the other products with which consumers expect it to interoperate is essentially worthless. It is interoperability that drives competition on the merits and innovation. The ability of different computer products to interoperate allows consumers to choose among them. Because consumers can choose among them, interoperable products must compete with one another, and it is this competition that has driven innovation in the software industry.
ECIS’s policy agenda is focused on advocating interoperability in the ICT industry, and the actions it takes reflect this fact. The main focus of ECIS’ policy initiatives is thus naturally on its Interoperability Policy, but recently it has also began to take steps in the antitrust sphere to ensure that dominant undertakings are not able to abuse their dominance by refusing others the right to interoperate with their dominant product or software platform.
ECIS has been a champion of interoperability for nearly two decades, helping for example to push through the interoperability provision of the Software Directive and to ensure that interoperability was firmly on the agenda in the discussions over the proposed Directive on Computer Implemented Inventions, which was finally put to rest in July 2006 after the Members of the European Parliament rejected it.
In the ICT sector technology can give undertakings great market power. If a single undertaking gains control over a standard commonly used in the industry, there is a great risk that the undertaking will misuse its power for its own benefit by excluding competitors from the market by preventing them from fully utilising the standard. ECIS believes that by protecting interoperability in the ICT industry, most such antitrust issues can be avoided. Therefore antitrust agencies must be vigilant in protecting consumers from dominant companies attempting to monopolise markets by preventing others from interoperating with its dominant products, thereby foreclosing all effective competition from the market place to the detriment of consumers who had been accustomed to having a choice.