The Metaverse Standards Forum (MSF) Announced June 21, 2022. MSF aims to “strengthen the standards for open interoperability of the metaverse line,” and its presence could accelerate the development of metaverse technologies. This post will provide an overview of Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) and how they are developing technologies through collaboration between competitors. It will also explore how and why MSF seeks to differentiate itself from standard-setting organizations, including in relation to intellectual property.
(For those interested in learning about the metaverse, please see our previous Holland & Knight posts: Metaverse: Building a Fairer World in Virtual Reality And the Metaverse: patent infringement in virtual worlds.)
1. What are SDOs?
SDOs are collaborations between competing entities to develop global technological standards. In the absence of this cooperation, competing technologies will appear incompatible with each other. For example, anyone who has traveled outside North America learns this quickly Other countries don’t use the same power outlets we do. To solve the problem, travelers must carry bulky adapters to connect their electronic devices to outlets in foreign countries.
This problem could have been solved early on with a global standard that required all electrical sockets and outlets around the world to conform to the same specifications. Although not used worldwide, there is such a standard in the US for our plugs and outlets: National Electrical Manufacturers Association specification 5-15.
The power socket example shows where SDOs focus most of their attention: interfaces, or that distance between two components (for example, a plug and socket). Interfaces loom large on top of any engineering project as components must interact with each other in some way, and engineers will spend a significant amount of time developing these connections between components. In the power socket example, builders need to install outlets, and electronics manufacturers need to put sockets on their devices. The interface issue there asks what shape both ends have to be so that they fit together, and also what voltage the port and receiver of the plug should provide. By specifying the answer to these questions in the written standards specifications, both component and port manufacturers have a reference point for understanding what to expect from each other.
Since universal standardization has never happened with power plugs and outlets, travelers need to pack their own separate interfaces: a power adapter that can receive any type of plug on one end and fit into any type of port on the other. These power adapters are real trophies for unfashionable and unnecessary engineering (and I must admit I swing a little whenever I put one in a bag).
II. SDOs success
While electrical sockets and outlets are not subject to any global standard, many other industries have adopted global standards and achieved tremendous success in the market. Perhaps the best example of this success is Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)which develops global cellular communications specifications.
3GPP originated to solve the “electrical component problem” in telecommunications. In the 1980s and 1990s, different geographic regions had different cellular standards. Here is a partial list of “first generation” (1G) standards: AMPS (US and Americas); NMT (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland); TAX (UK); C-Netz (West Germany, Portugal, and South Africa); Radiocom 2000 (France); RTMI (Italy); and MCS-L1/L2 (Japan). This fragmentation of cellular standards means that your phone (which was pretty big at the time) only works within national borders. The incompatibility was caused by the different communication interfaces between phones and networks from one country to another. In fact, the French phone and the Norwegian network did not “speak the same language”.
In the early nineties, it was European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) He sought to build a global cellular standard so that the interface between the phone and the network would be fixed and defined. The result was the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), which was widely deployed across Europe and led to many important advances in cellular technologies (including SIM cards and SMS). GSM eventually captured nearly half of the US market, but even that market was broken. Almost the other half of American cell phones use the IS-95 (CDMA) standard.
3GPP was created in 1998 to create a truly global cellular standard. It acts as an umbrella organization to partner with SDOs that have previously developed national cellular standards. 3GPP first handled adding data traffic to GSM, and then built the first truly global cellular standard, UMTS, which was commercially sold to the public as “3G”.
Since then, 3GPP has developed other global cellular standards that are well known to consumers: LTE and 5G. International travelers still need to worry about foreign roaming charges, but their phones will work anywhere on Earth because the communications interface between a phone and any network is now the same all over the world. The history of cellular standards is The story of the Tower of Babel In reverse: broken languages were abandoned in favor of a universal language.
The success of 3GPP is evident to anyone using a smartphone today: 3GPP networks incorporate the best communications ideas available to provide high-speed data to users. Interestingly, these ideas come from fierce competitors in the cellular market. These competitors collaborate to develop the best possible cellular standards, but each continues to compete to build the best smartphones and infrastructure equipment.
Third. Intellectual property rights in SDOs
This combination of collaboration on interfaces and fierce competition for all other elements of the product creates tension in terms of intellectual property rights (commonly referred to as “IPR”). Entities involved in setting standards for standard-setting often develop the relevant patented technology at the same time as they are setting standards. These entities may want their patented technologies to become part of SDO’s global standard development because global adoption will make those patents more valuable.
To resolve this IPR tension between cooperation and competition, standard setting organizations typically require participating entities to explicitly state that their IPRs are necessary for standards development. (For example, 3GPP requires that all of its meetings begin with a “formal invitation to intellectual property rights”.Entities must declare their intellectual property rights so that they are disclosed to all SDO members. If SDO adopts the patented technology, the advertiser can still benefit from global adoption, but often has to agree to license the technology to others on the Fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms (FRAND).
Fourthly. Enter the Metaverse Standards Forum
Like 3GPP, MSF has positioned itself as an umbrella organization for Various metaverse SDOs:
Unlike 3GPP, MSF expresses it as “not another SDO.”[,]And that all standardization activities will take place within the standards setting members. Instead, MSF will focus on adoption interoperability Among these are different SDOs.
by way of analogy, MSF compares the problem it seeks to solve to the problem of interoperable standards in computers. Computers are a set of different global standards, including Wi-Fi for wireless networks, Bluetooth for short-range wireless connections, HDMI for video out, and USB for peripherals. These different standards need to “talk to” each other using standard interfaces in order for a computer to function. A similar problem arises in the context of the metaverse. There is a large group of hardware standards development tools (SDOs) that develop hardware standards (for example, for headphone equipment) and software standards (for example, for virtual assets and virtual worlds). For a system(s) to use these metaverse standards, they will need to deal with standard interfaces. MSF plans to enhance interoperability through “Prototyping, Hackathons, Plugins and Tool Projects. “The initial list of topics that MSF may work on includes: It spans nearly the entire metaverse:
MSF also distinguishes itself by requesting “No IP frame. “This likely means that MSF will not have an IPR declaration policy and will not require a license under FRAND terms. Instead, SDOs members’ (if any) IPR declaration policies will govern.
MSF is just getting started, but it has the potential to do its job for the metaverse what 3GPP has done for cellular networks: promoting the best ideas in space, building solutions that benefit consumers and accelerating technology adoption.