An Empirical Study of Open Standards

Interoperability, Competition Policy and Antitrust and Standards

Article Snapshot


Jay P. Kesan and Rajiv C. Shah


U. Illinois Law & Economics Research Paper No. LE07-039, 2007


This paper gives an overview of open standards for technology products.

Policy Relevance

Standards organizations might want to set special rules for the most important standards, and help promote useful but little-noticed standards.

Main Points

  • We studied IETF open standards adopted from August 1987 to January 2006, and also a set of 32 open standards, selected randomly from 2000 to 2003.
  • Earlier, standards either came from formal standard-setting (de jure) or arose when consumers favored one product over another (de facto). Now more standards are “open standards” formed by consortia of many firms and others by different methods.
  • A few open standards have enormous impact, being most popular and noticed by researchers. This is because users are free to choose from among many standards.
    • Standards organizations should consider special rules for standards expected to have a big impact.
    • Standards will likely have the most impact when the standards document is long, showing much debate and many participants. The duration of the standards process does not affect impact; reforms to shorten the process are a good idea.
  • Open standards are those 1) available at minimal cost; 2) licensed to all on “reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms,” or not controlled by one entity or firm; or 3) the process is open to the public.
  • Open standards are not always used, because they take more time and can slow down new technology; some firms favor standards that they can control.

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