Standards in the Digital Age

7 Pages Posted: 18 May 2007

See all articles by Raymond Gifford

Raymond Gifford

The Progress & Freedom Foundation

Date Written: March 31, 2005


Policymakers should proceed with a great deal of caution when considering standards mandates, where procurement policies and other government actions may distort a marketplace filled with competing standards and levels of interoperability.

Because there are undeniable trade-offs from any standard-setting decision, governments should: a) be wary of thinking they have sufficient foresight to make proper standard-setting decisions; and b) be deferential to private attempts at standard setting.

Varying models of open and closed standards with differing levels of interoperability will emerge and compete, with the market determining winners.

There are numerous standards, from the open, non-proprietary TCP/IP standard that forms the basis for the entire packet structure of the Internet, to the relatively more closed and proprietary standards of Apple Computer and its companion the iPod. There are also numerous standards-setting bodies at work in the digital space. No one approach is the right choice, but instead each has strengths and weaknesses, and involves inevitable trade-offs.

A key taxonomic distinction also lies between open source and open standards. Open source, which should be considered open and proprietary, is one way to achieve an openness of a sort. But open source should not obscure other attempts to achieve open standards through private ad hoc consortia or formal standard setting bodies. One cannot say with any metaphysical certainty that any one approach is superior. And to be sure, we should leave other parties with the liberty and freedom to work within alternate models - to achieve openness, interoperability and consumer benefits.

Keywords: standards, open source, standardization, proprietary, nonproprietary, non-proprietary, open, closed, interoperability, ITU, IEEE, EITF, W3C, ANSI, de facto, de jure, cross-licensing, cross-license, Schumpeterian,Schumpeter, digital standard, digital standards

JEL Classification: D2, D23, L82,L86, O3, O31, O34

Suggested Citation

Gifford, Raymond, Standards in the Digital Age (March 31, 2005). Progress & Freedom Foundation Progress on Point Paper No. 12.2, Available at SSRN: or

Raymond Gifford (Contact Author)

The Progress & Freedom Foundation ( email )

1444 Eye Street NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005
United States

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