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A standard-setting organization (also called a standards-setting organization, standards organization, and SSO) is

any entity whose primary activities are developing, coordinating, promulgating, revising, amending, reissuing, interpreting, or otherwise maintaining standards that address the interests of a wide base of users outside the standards development organization.
an organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute that develops and maintains standards for information transactions or data elements, or any other standard that is necessary for, or will facilitate the implementation of, this part.[1]
any organization, group, joint venture, or consortium that develops standards for the design, performance, or other characteristics of products or technologies.[2]


Most voluntary standards are offered for use by people, regulators, or industry. When a published standard achieves widespread acceptance and dominance it can become a broader de facto standard for an industry. This has happened with the modem protocol developed by Hayes, Apple's TrueType font standard and the PCL protocol used by Hewlett-Packard in the computer printers they produced.

Normally, the term standards organization does not include the parties participating in the standards development organization in the capacity of founders, benefactors, stakeholders, members or contributors, who themselves may function as the standard-setting organizations.

Specific standards-setting bodies[]

Standards are set through bodies such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Architecture Board, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the former Comite Consultatif Internationale de Telegraphique et Telephonique (CCITT), the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the American Bankers Association (ABA), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Department of Commerce has a prominent role to work with these standards-setting bodies and also to develop Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) for use by the federal government and its contractors.

U.S. antitrust law[]

Private standard setting — which might otherwise be viewed as a naked agreement among competitors not to manufacture, distribute, or purchase certain types of products — need not, in fact, violate antitrust law.[3] Typically, the procompetitive benefits of standard setting outweigh the loss of market competition. For this reason, antitrust enforcement has shown a high degree of acceptance of, and tolerance for, standard-setting activities. But when a firm engages in exclusionary conduct that subverts the standard-setting process and leads to the acquisition of monopoly power, the procompetitive benefits of standard setting cannot be fully realized.

Indeed, that "private standard-setting by associations comprising firms with horizontal and vertical business relations is permitted at all under the antitrust laws [is] only on the understanding that it will be conducted in a nonpartisan manner offering procompetitive benefits,"[4] and in the presence of "meaningful safeguards" that "prevent the standard-setting process from being biased by members with economic interests in stifling product competition,"[5]


  1. 45 C.F.R. 160.103.
  2. Patent Assertion Entity Activity: An FTC Study, at A-3.
  3. See Allied Tube & Conduit Corp. v. Indian Head, Inc., 486 U.S. 492, 500-01 (1988) (full-text); see also Standards Development Organization Advancement Act of 2004, 15 U.S.C. §§ 4302, 4303 (Supp. 2004) (providing that private standard-setting conduct shall not be deemed illegal per se, and insulating such conduct from treble damages); Pub. L. No. 108-237, Title I, §102, 118 Stat. 661 (June 22, 2004) (noting congressional finding of "the importance of technical standards developed by voluntary consensus standards bodies to our national economy").
  4. Allied Tube, 486 U.S. at 506-07.
  5. id. at 501; American Soc'y of Mech. Eng'rs, Inc. v. Hydrolevel Corp., 456 U.S. 556, 572 (1982) (full-text); see also Clamp-All Corp. v. Cast Iron Soil Pipe Inst., 851 F.2d 478, 488 (1st Cir. 1988) (full-text) (acknowledging possibility of antitrust claim where firms both prevented SSO from adopting a beneficial standard and did so through “unfair, or improper practices or procedures”). As the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged in Allied Tube, and as administrative tribunals, law enforcement authorities, and some courts have recognized, conduct that undermines the procompetitive benefits of private standard setting may, at least in some circumstances, be deemed anticompetitive under antitrust law.)

See also[]

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