Some panel discussions in the last cycle seemed aimed at increasing the comfort level of building officials using the NEC. The idea appeared to be a response to the forthcoming unified building code, under which building officials control all major construction codes except the NEC. Some thought if NFPA did this on its own, building officials wouldn’t go after the NEC. I said many of the proposals were ill advised and whatever was done, the building officials would simply move the goal posts afterward. They just did.

In the May issue of NFPA News, a front page article announces the end of cooperative negotiations between NFPA and the International Code Council (ICC), the umbrella organization of building officials. NFPA had been working hard over the past year to promote collaboration. So why did it end the talks? Because the ICC just filed suit against NFPA for copyright infringement over the term “International Electrical Code,” which appears on the front cover of the NEC! They filed the lawsuit on the same day they responded to NFPA’s latest cooperative proposal.

The NEC has become the operating electrical code in many countries, which account for 40% of electric power consumed in the world. The ICC appears to want exclusive rights to the term. However, these rights would certainly come in handy should it gain control of the document. That would mean the end of the NFPA consensus process on our Code, with incalculable consequences to our industry.

What does the future hold? Wars usually happen because one side misreads the resolve of the other. I suggest our industry convincingly prepare for the forthcoming confrontation. It’s time to choose sides. All interest groups in our industry should decisively declare support for NFPA, as it defends its stewardship of the NEC. We don’t lack weapons. Thanks in part to an amicus brief submitted by NFPA Associate General Counsel Maureen Brodoff, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the rights in copyright of a standards developer, even after such a standard enters the public domain through government adoption of that standard. Now, we need to summon the political will to use them.