The IT Law Wiki



A standard is

a set of detailed technical guidelines used as a means of establishing uniformity in an area of hardware or software development.[1]

Federal procurement[]

Standards are

the criteria for determining the effectiveness of the procurement system by measuring the performance of the various elements of such system.[2]


A standard is

[a] rule, condition, or requirement: (1) Describing the following information for products, systems, services or practices: (i) Classification of components. (ii) Specification of materials, performance, or operations; or (iii) Delineation of procedures. . . .[3]
a document, established by consensus and approved by a recognized body, which provides for common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at the achievement of the optimum degree of order in a given context.[4]
[a] rule or basis of comparison in measuring or judging capacity, quantity, content, extent, value, quality, etc.[5]
documented international, national, or industry consensus agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions to ensure that materials, products, processes, or services are proper for their purposes.[6]
Specifications that establish the fitness of a product for a particular use or that define the function and performance of a device or system. Standards are key facilitators of compatibility and interoperability. They define specifications for languages, communication protocols, data formats, linkages within and across systems, interfaces between software applications and between hardware devices, and much more. Standards must be robust so that they can be extended to accommodate future applications and technologies. An assortment of organizations develops voluntary standards and specifications, which are the results of processes that vary on the basis of the type of organization and its purpose. These organizations include, but are not limited to, standards development organizations (SDOs), standards-setting organizations (SSOs), and user groups.[7]


A standard is

[a] model, established by law, regulation, order, policy, custom, or general agreement, against which a security system can be measured.[8]


Standards are

are engineering criteria developed by the technology community that specify how a product should be designed or how it should perform.[9]


A standard can be virtually any characteristic by which a class of objects is compared.

Standards can be established in several ways. Industry may agree on standards; government may impose them; or the market may determine them. Often a standard is established by the dominant producer of a new technology, but such de facto standards can take considerable time to emerge if several competitors offer different designs. Major consumers can also create de facto standards, as in the case of military standards and specifications on certain electronic assemblies.

The adoption of standards can affect the competitive position of corporations and nations. Extended competition among standards can balkanize markets and slow the adoption of beneficial technologies, while widespread agreement on standards can facilitate such technologies' entry into use.

Numerous committees have been established, with and without the help of government, to facilitate standards-setting. While technical considerations are important in standards-setting, social and political considerations often overwhelm them as companies attempt to impose the standards that best suit their own interests. Federal procurement policies also influence standards-setting.

The best results emerge from standards development processes that are consensus-based, in which all stakeholdersusers, producers, and researchers — participate. In such approaches, each group of stakeholders contributes unique perspectives to the process: users understand their needs, producers understand the current state of technology, and researchers understand future trends. A standard must address user needs but must also be practical, since cost and technological limitations must be considered in building products to meet the standard. Additionally, a standard's requirements must be verifiable.

Advantages of standards[]

Technical standards are particularly important in the development of new technologies because they help channel resources toward a limited number of designs. For suppliers, standards reduce the need in many instances to develop products to a particular purchaser's specifications. Because a single product or product line may be sold to multiple purchasers and distributed more widely, manufacturing volumes increase, and per unit costs decrease. Purchasers benefit from increased price competition among suppliers. Because a number of suppliers product standard-compliant products, switching suppliers typically does not require a substantial redesign of one's products or a substantial technical transfer to enable the new supplier to product compatible products. The lower "switching costs" intensifies competition among suppliers, leading to lower prices.

Disadvantages of standards[]

Technical standardization creates a "lock-in" effect and the risk of "patent hold-up." Although standards are the products of coordination and compromise among competitors, certain aspects of standards may be covered by patents. Without standardization, the royalty a patentee can earn from a patent license for its technology is constrained in part by the availability of alternative technical solutions. If a standard requires a designer to employ a particular patented technology, however, those other technical approaches are no longer available substitutes and will no longer constrain the patentee's ability to demand excessive royalties not warranted by the intrinsic value of the technology.

This problem is compounded because designers invest substantial resources in developing products that implement the technical standard. Even if there were an alternative technical solution — and many times there are none — the costs involved with switching might be prohibitively expensive. The designer who implements a standard thus becomes "locked-in" to the patented technology. Left unconstrained, owners of patents that cover certain features within the standard could take advantage of lock-in and demand exorbitant royalties from the designers, knowing that it would be less costly for the designer to pay the excessive royalty than to incur the cost of switching — known as "patent hold-up."

To avoid this problem, most standard-setting organizations have adopted intellectual property rights policies to address the problem of patent hold-up. These policies set forth requirements concerning:

(a) the disclosure of patents or patent applications that may cover any portion of the specifications of the standard in development; and

(b) whether and to what extent patentees holding such essential patents must commit to licensing these patents on F/RAND terms and conditions.

The U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has recognized the pro-competitive potential of standard-setting activities. However, because a standard may displace the normal give and take of competition, the Court has not hesitated to impose antitrust liability on conduct that threatens to undermine the standard-setting process or to render it anticompetitive.[10]

Computer standards[]

Computer standards have traditionally developed in either of two ways. The first, a highly informal process, occurs when a product or philosophy is developed by a single company and, through success and imitation, becomes so widely used that deviation from the norm causes compatibility problems or limits marketability. This type of de facto standard setting is typified by such products as Hayes modems and IBM personal computers. The second type of standard-setting is a far more formal process in which specifications are drafted by a cooperative group or committee after an intensive study of existing methods, approaches, and technological trends and developments. The proposed standards are later ratified by consensus through an accredited organization and are adopted over time as products based on the standards become increasingly prevalent in the market.

United States[]

Pursuant to U.S. law and policy, Federal agencies are required to use voluntary consensus standards in their procurement and regulatory activities, except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical. Many SDOs operate through a process that is characterized by all or some of the following attributes: openness, balance, due process, ability to appeal, and consensus.

  • Openness means that the procedures or processes used are open to interested parties. Such parties are provided meaningful opportunities to participate in standards development on a non-discriminatory basis. The procedures or processes for participating in standards development and for developing the standard are transparent.
  • The standards development] process should also be balanced. Specifically, there should be meaningful involvement from a broad range of parties, with no single interest dominating the decision-making.
  • Due process shall include documented and publically available policies and procedures, adequate notice of meetings and standards development, sufficient time to review drafts and prepare views and objections, access to views and objections of other participants and a fair and impartial process for resolving conflicting views.
  • An appeals process shall be available for the impartial handling of procedural appeals.
  • Consensus is defined as general agreement, but not necessarily unanimity. During the development of consensus, comments and objections are considered using fair, impartial, open, and transparent processes.

These process attributes contribute to the technical soundness and market relevance of the published standards of an SDO.

Within the United States, there are hundreds of SDOs, which are overwhelmingly private sector organizations, providing the infrastructure for the preparation of standards documents. USG personnel participate in SDO activities along with representatives from industry, academia, and other organizations and consumers. There is a much greater reliance in the United States on the private sector, including companies and industry groups, consumers, and other interested parties, in standards development. The United States Standards Strategy, elaborated through a private and public sector partnership in 2000, and revised most recently in 2010, outlines the contribution of private-sector led standards development to overall competition and innovation in the U.S. economy and the imperative of public and private sector participation that is a central tenet of the U.S. approach to standardization.

Outside the United States[]

The U.S. standards system differs significantly from the government-driven, centrally-coordinated standards systems common in many other countries. In many other countries' standards systems, the government plays a larger role in standards development-related activities, which provides those governments the ability to use standards to support domestic industrial and innovation policy, rather than to advance technical solutions in support of public policy goals.


  1. Year 2000 Computing Crisis: An Assessment Guide, at 33.
  2. 41 U.S.C. §403(4).
  3. 45 C.F.R. §160.103.
  4. NISTIR 8704, at 3. See also ISO/IEC Guide 2:2004, Standardization and related activities - General Vocabulary.
  5. DOE Manual 470.4-7, at 57.
  6. DHS Management Directive 4030, at 3.
  7. NIST Framework and Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards, Release 2.0, at 23.
  8. DOE Manual 470.4-7, at 57.
  9. Autonomous Vehicle Technology: A Guide for Policymakers, at xxi.
  10. See Standard Sanitary Mfg. Co. v. United States, 226 U.S. 20, 41 (1912) (full-text); Allied Tube & Conduit Corp. v. Indian Head, Inc., 486 U.S. 492, 500 (1989) (full-text); American Soc’y of Mech. Engineers, Inc. v. Hydrolevel Corp., 456 U.S. 556, 571 (1982) (full-text).


See also[]