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The 12 member nations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact have agreed to prohibit demands that companies reveal software source code*, a step that appears aimed at curbing efforts by China to gain access to this sensitive information, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
Source code is the confidential information for software and is a “blueprint” embedded in many commonly used products, such as vehicles, mobile phones and home appliances. Source code is usually tightly guarded because it conatins commands that make using the software easier.
China requires foreign companies operating there to hand over source code, a move that has sparked sharp criticism from many countries. Observers believe the decision by TPP participants to ban demands to reveal this code is intended to restrain China’s move.
The TPP’s electronic commerce chapter in principle prohibits the 12 member nations from demanding access to source code for mass-produced software. According to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the Japan-Mongolia economic partnership agreement signed in February contains a stipulation banning demands for such information, but there are very few other examples around the world.
Japan, the United States and other nations that are home to many information technology companies want to make the stipulation effectively a global standard, and they are considering whether to incorporate such a condition in economic partnership agreements that will be inked in the future.
Source code is an important corporate secret for development firms.
*Source code—A software program written in a language a computer understands. As well as containing expert details about the unique functions of the product, the software is essential for fixing glitches and making improvements. Hackers have attempted to access source code because gaining this information would make it easier to create viruses that could exploit any software defects. In the software business, it is rarely made public, as it is considered a corporate secret.