Standards Association Program Encourages Competitors to Collaborate

The program provides an infrastructure to help like-minded companies work through problems

6 November 2009

It’s no easy task getting tech competitors together to find solutions to common problems that might be holding them back from moving their industry forward. But you might persuade them to cooperate if a trusted neutral party provides the services and environment they need to reach a consensus. Such collaboration is the goal of the new IEEE Standards Association Industry Connections program.

Launched in August, the program provides an infrastructure to help like-minded companies work through problems, and it gives them guidance on how to proceed—all without costing the companies the time and effort that would be required if they had to set up a formal joint development activity or consortium by themselves.

“Industries typically reach a stage where some consensus must be reached about the value of combining forces on basic market-enabling technologies in order to trigger the next burst of innovation and market growth,” says Judy Gorman, IEEE-SA managing director. “But setting up a formal consortium from scratch is not inconsequential. The effort typically includes such complex mandates as guaranteeing indemnity protection and limits on antitrust damages, often requiring a year of effort before a group’s real work can begin.

“Industry Connections helps with setting up a cooperative organization and intellectual-property logistics, and accelerates the development of early results, which may include but are not limited to standards,” she continues.

Companies that want to go the Industry Connections route are first assigned a mentor by the Standards Association to help with such tasks as establishing policies and procedures for electing officers, sharing information, and setting up a project Web site. The mentor also guides the group through the standards development process, if desired. If a group decides not to develop a standard first, the mentor helps them with other tasks, such as creating industry position papers, specifications, technical reports, or white papers, or launching a periodical.

“The IEEE Standards Association is ideally suited to run such a program because it already has the processes set up and the environment for bringing people together to build consensus,” says James Wendorf, the program’s manager, who also serves as a program mentor. “Companies can come together and start working right away on their issues instead of having to first set up rules for how they will cooperate.”

The first companies to sign up for the program are six of the biggest computer security vendors: AVG Technologies, McAfee, Microsoft, Sophos, Symantec, and Trend Micro. Subsequently joined by other industry players, they formed the Industry Connections Security Group (ICSG) to combat the increasing barrage of malicious software. Such malware infiltrates a computer without the owner’s knowledge. More than 50 000 pieces of malware are being released daily, according to IEEE Senior Member Jeff Green, the ICSG chair and senior vice president of McAfee Avert Labs in Santa Clara, Calif.

“Most security companies are dealing with an onslaught of malware and other bad stuff on the Internet. But no one organization can address the magnitude and sophistication of today’s threats,” Green says. “We formed the group because we wanted a flexible forum that would allow us to solve problems quickly.”

The group is establishing standards for efficiently sharing malware samples and the additional information, or metadata, concerning what is known about the samples.

“Our current methods for sharing malware are expensive and time consuming,” Green says. “These standards will help us streamline our processes and ultimately protect our customers and Internet users. It would have taken us months to first set up a consortium.”

He encourages other organizations to participate in the Industry Connections program. “If you have a business or industry problem to solve, this is a way of getting up and running very quickly,” he notes. “The Industry Connections program also allows you to explore standards development through an organization—IEEE—that has a recognized brand, and to enjoy the support that goes along with it.”

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