ICC vs IAPMO vs ICC vs IAPMO vs….a Solution?

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This week it was announced that ICC-ES filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against IAPMO to stop what ICC purports to be an unauthorized use of ICC-ES materials and its knowing infringement of ICC-ES copyrights. IAPMO states that ICC’s accusations are unwarranted and their IAPMO UES stands by their process, reports, and rightful position in the marketplace as an alternative path to the ICC services.

As someone that has been intimately engaged and was game-fully employed by both of these organizations, I am truly sad to see this new lawsuit being filed – not because I care whether ICC or IAPMO wins, but because I realize that I no longer care anymore. I do care that the members and the industry that have been through this time and time again, will suffer….again and again. For that reason only, I care.

More Alike Than Different

Working as a senior staff member at both the International Code Council (ICC) and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) for more than a decade, I gained a great appreciation for both of their missions, members, stakeholders and contributions to the overall industry. For the most part, both operate a good business, with positive intent, taking the interests of their members into account while earning mega-revenues year after year.

Interestingly, and in contrary to what each highly competitive business likes to portray to the world, their organizations, businesses, revenue totals, stakeholders and their codes, are much more alike than different. Both the ICC and IAPMO have a very loyal membership. Both have governmental inspectors as their base member. Both develop plumbing and mechanical codes.

Both create standards for products and systems installation. Both list, evaluate and certify products to meet standards and code provisions. Both educate, test and certify their inspectors to the code provisions. The similarities list goes on and on and on. With all of this similitude as well as competition for business advantage in the same space, a conflict such as this was bound to happen. Of course it was going to happen. History always repeats itself.

Their business models revolve around their codes. It is a good model and an easy way to gain loyalty from their members. They create codes that bring safety to the built environment and place contractors and manufacturers on a level playing field with minimum requirements for their installations and product creations. Who could be opposed to providing greater public safety, locally, nationally and globally while driving innovation in the marketplace? Although the basic premise is the same, the method for earning from the codes differs.

Two 800-lb. Gorillas

Although they might not say it quite so bluntly, IAPMO specialized in the plumbing and mechanical codes and used their plumbing codes as a loss leader to gain income from their product testing and listing programs. Get the codes adopted by any method, even giving them away for free if necessary, and then require the products regulated in the code to be tested and listed. Why would a manufacturer go anywhere else for that service when their members are the same inspectors that inspect and approve the installations and the products in the marketplace?

A very good business model. Soon they became the 800-lb. gorilla in the plumbing and mechanical product testing and listing jungle and earned tens of millions of dollars annually.

ICC on the other hand, was considered the code people. Their members created lots and lots of codes. Building codes, plumbing codes, existing building codes, residential codes, energy codes, green codes and more and more codes. They sold a lot of codes…a lot of codes, and then made ancillary products that fed off of the codes. Why go anywhere else for your codes when their members are the very experts in the building departments that create them and are responsible for the adoption and implementation of the codes. Another excellent business model. Soon they became the 800 pound gorilla in the code selling jungle and earned tens of millions of dollars annually.

Of course, two gorillas marking their boundaries and competing for food and affection in the same jungle will soon cross paths…sooner or later. The outcome from that encounter will prove to be painful for both combatants as well as their supporting family clans, regardless of who wins the battle.

Indifference is the Worst

I can’t speak for the thousands of members, stakeholders, customers, employees and hundreds of dedicated experts that have worked hard to create the quality codes and standards for each organization. I can’t speak for the many manufacturers and clients that use both organizations’ services and spend millions to test, list and certify their products. As someone that has been through the intense battles that pit members against members, inspectors against inspectors, and coworkers against coworkers over the last twenty years, I can say that it has been intense and draining. I have been highly engaged, testified and staunchly defended both organizations at one time or another at regulatory hearings and membership meetings as a member and as senior staff.

I also went through the collaboration phase where the two organizations tried to join into a shared business unit and almost became a single organization that would have a shared membership and one vision and mission. That sounded awesome! The memberships and stakeholders were so tired of the ongoing conflict that they put aside their differences and tasked the collective leaderships to find a way to make it work and to satisfy all involved to stop the fighting once and for all. As one of the staff tasked with collaboration and divvying up the programs and even sharing our internal secrets to find that happy spot, it was rewarding. We worked closely as one team and both sides had sincere and good intentions. After a lot of intense work and emotional strain, we were just moments away from code-world Shangri-La.

Then, the next thing we knew, the deal was killed. There was not a single person or side to blame and frankly it does not matter. It was back to the old ways. I can only speak for myself now and frankly, after gaining many code scars, I am absolutely indifferent. I am now numb to ether side. The lawsuits and what might happen to the reputations of the organizations, oh well. Choose a side…nope. In fact, indifference is probably worse than being an opponent. Indifference means that I don’t care enough to want to know any more about who is right or wrong. I have seen enough to know that it has gone on long enough and placing blame is meaningless. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am going to watch the train wreck and I am going to continue to help develop codes and standards, provide technical expertise, participate on committees and task groups, purchase codes, assist manufacturers to navigate the listing and testing process and purchase the services of IAPMO and ICC. I just refuse to get emotionally attached to ether side.

The Final Solution

One might think that now, during litigation, would be the worst time to propose a one code solution. I don’t agree. This is the perfect time. There are hundreds just like me, maybe thousands, that have been through the wringer and are ready to support one code. This lawsuit and a repeat of the past should illustrate the perfect reason to bring the groups together for one code. Of course, the two organizations’ staff will say “you have to be kidding, we are fighting and we will never negotiate,” but this is the same staff that is under the direction of the membership and stakeholders. The collective memberships are the same people, with the same overall goal in mind, public safety and uniformity. We should have one code, one mission and one membership. If you are then asked to choose a side, don’t. If we continue down this same road, doing the same thing, we will have the same result. History has provided that it will repeat itself, again and again.

For now I will not invest any more emotional energy in the battles between these two groups until there is one plumbing and mechanical code. If it means a collaborative effort of give and take, or one of winner-take-all, so be it. When the dust clears, and there is one code, I will fight for it, support it, promote it and defend it with everything I have to give. In fact, when that day comes to negotiate the deal, and it will, I hope they find someone just like me to mediate a fair deal for both memberships – someone than is indifferent and neutral that wants only one outcome, one code.

Jay Peters is principal advisor, products, codes and standards, Codes and Standards International. For more than 35 years, Peters has been active in the plumbing and mechanical trades as a journeyman, contractor and senior staff for ICC and IAPMO. His firm represents manufacturers at technical codes and standards meetings, regulatory and legislative hearings and navigating through product testing, listing and certification. He can be reached at: peters.jay@me.com.

Visit them at BuildingCodesAndStandards.com.


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