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Should interoperability become a legal right?

IBM, Microsoft and Apple have each been accused of withholding interface information. Over the years, antitrust complaints were made against all three. But do we need a new approach? Do we need an intellectual property law to assist interoperability?12 Sep 2006

OUT-LAW is exploring the case for a law that would force companies to license interface information on commercially-reasonable terms to allow interoperability.

This is not a plan to replace competition laws, which focus on a company that abuses a dominant position. This is not replacing reverse-engineering rights, which are qualified – and reverse-engineering can be an inexact science. This is not a challenge to patentability, either. If you develop an interface that's eligible for a patent, go ahead – but license it to others on reasonable commercial terms.

We want your view.

  • You might be a software firm that was refused interface information by another company. You might have designed an innovative interface and feel it is your right to keep rivals out.
  • You might be an iTunes user who wants to play purchased music on a Walkman; or you might feel that Apple has every right to keep downloads exclusive to iPods.

What do you think of this statement: It should be possible to force companies to license interface information on commercially-reasonable terms to allow interoperability.

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*If you prefer, you can email your comments to our editor: struan.robertson@out-law.com.

For avoidance of doubt, this statement does not reflect the view of Pinsent Masons. We are simply doing some research.