Our Work / Overview of Open Standards

Open Standards

There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes an Open Standard and no shortage of proposals. Links to some of them have been included below.

FSFE did not want to propose yet another definition. We decided to go with the definition of an Open Standard that was developed as part of the preparations for Certified Open. Work on this definition began before FSFE's involvement on the project and was initially based on the definition in the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) of the European Commission.

In a dialog involving various key players in industry, politics and community, the definition was reworked into a definition of five points that found consensus among all the involved. The definition has subsequently been adopted by the SELF EU Project, the 2008 Geneva Declaration on Standards and the Future of the Internet or the Document Freedom Day.


An Open Standard refers to a format or protocol that is

  1. subject to full public assessment and use without constraints in a manner equally available to all parties;
  2. without any components or extensions that have dependencies on formats or protocols that do not meet the definition of an Open Standard themselves;
  3. free from legal or technical clauses that limit its utilisation by any party or in any business model;
  4. managed and further developed independently of any single vendor in a process open to the equal participation of competitors and third parties;
  5. available in multiple complete implementations by competing vendors, or as a complete implementation equally available to all parties.

Comment on Emerging Standards

When a new format or protocol is under development, clause 5 cannot possibly be met. FSFE believes this is the correct behaviour in cases where technological maturity is required. In several scenarios, e.g. governmental deployment, the cost of failure can be very high.

In scenarios that seek to promote the growth of Open Standards, strict application of the clause could prevent new Open Standards. From the view of the definition, such standards would compete directly against vendor-driven proprietary formats. In such cases, it can make sense to allow failure of clause 5 for "Emerging Standards."

Which treatment such "Emerging Standards" receive is largely dependent on the situation. Where cost of failure is high, only fully Open Standards should be used. Where promotion of Open Standards is wanted, Emerging Standards should receive special promotion.

Generally speaking: Open Standards are better than Emerging Standards and Emerging Standards are better than vendor-specific formats. The closer a format comes to meeting all points of the definition, the higher it should be ranked in scenarios where interoperability and reliable long-term data storage is essential.

Wikipedia has an overview of the term Open Standard and various definitions. The following is a sample of some definitions: