Defining Open Standards: A Comparison of Policy and Practice

12 Pages Posted: 31 May 2012

Date Written: October 17, 2011


Governments around the world have taken an increasing interest in the use of “Open Standards” in the ICT systems that they deploy. That interest has manifested itself in several recent policies, including ones issued since November 2010 by the European Commission, the Government of India and the UK Cabinet Office. These policies ultimately raise as many questions as they answer about how we might delineate the confines of the term “Open Standard” and which commonly used standards would measure up to that requirement. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a single accepted definition of the term “Open Standard” and in fact each of the policies defines that term differently. Part I of this paper looks at the concept of “openness,” using five dimensions or attributes. Part II introduces the three recent government standards policies and explains how each one approaches the concept of openness, with reference to these five attributes. Part III of the paper suggests that while the definitions in these policies may seem clear on their face, when applied to real world practices at SSOs, the definitions will disqualify a non-trivial number of standards currently in use by governments around the world. Part IV summarizes the findings and considers several other policy questions related to the frequently cited objectives for these “Open Standards” Policies, concluding that we should ask questions about whether the policies outlined above can deliver on those objectives in light of the analysis in Part II.

Keywords: open standards, government policy, royalty free, openness attributes, India, UK, European Interoperability Framework, SSO IPR policies

Suggested Citation

Mutkoski, Stephen, Defining Open Standards: A Comparison of Policy and Practice (October 17, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Stephen Mutkoski (Contact Author)

Microsoft Corporation ( email )

United States

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