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15 APRIL 2012

Beta blockers? : proprietary data formats may be legally defensible but open standards can be a better spur for innovation

"Thomson [Thomson Reuters] makes the proprietary bibliography software EndNote, and claims that Zotero is causing its commercial business 'irreparable harm' and is wilfully and intentionally destroying Thomson's customer base. In particular, Thomson is demanding that GMU stop distributing the newer beta–version of Zotero that allegedly allows EndNote's proprietary data format for storing journal citation styles to be converted into an open–standard format readable by Zotero and other software. Thomson claims that Zotero 'reverse engineered or decompiled' not only the format, but also the EndNote software itself. ...

Litigation, which may go to a jury trial, is pending, so judging this case on its legal merits would be premature. But on a more general level, the virtues of interoperability and easy data–sharing among researchers are worth restating. Imagine if Microsoft Word or Excel files could be opened and saved only in these proprietary formats, for example. It would be impossible for OpenOffice and other such software to read and save these files using open standards – as they can legally do.

Competition between open–source and proprietary software is long–running, as personified by the struggle between Windows and Linux for desktop and server operating systems, but also in many branches of software used by scientists. Researchers tend to lean towards open sharing, but they will also pay for added–value features, and it's important that the playing field is level. Ultimately, the customer is king."

(Nature, p.708)

Nature Volume 455, p.708 (9 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455708a; Published online 8 October 2008, Nature Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited.



2006 • added-value features • authorshipbibliography softwareCenter for History and New MediacitationcopyrightDan Cohen • data format • digital informationEndNoteGeorge Mason Universityinteroperabilityknowledge integrationlawsuitlevel playing fieldLinuxMicrosoft ExcelMicrosoft WindowsMicrosoft WordNature (journal) • open sharing • open sourceopen source filesopen source software • open standard format • open standards • OpenOffice • operating systemorganise and share • OS • ownershipproprietary • proprietary data formats • proprietary formats • proprietary software • researchersreverse engineering • science news • science policy • Sean Takatssoftwaretechnology • Thomson Reuters • trademark infringment • Zotero


Simon Perkins

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