Beyond 'open standard'

Sean DALY sean.daly at
Wed Jul 19 09:16:22 UTC 2006

Greetings Stef,

Yes standards such as PDF and the MPEG standards are open, but encumbered - by stewardship by a single company in the case of PDF, or patent pool licensing issues in the case of MPEG. Which is not to say that open standards are not useful; the audiovisual industry relies almost exclusively on MPEG, the reasoning being that companies contribute their best patents in the common interest. Of course, that falls down when the patent pool licensing arrangement fails to satisfy a contributor; witness the Fraunhofer Institut's moves when MPEG-1 Layer 3 ("MP3") unexpectedly became wildly popular as a consumer audio format.

The OpenDocument (ODF) standard developed by OASIS was recently evaluated by Eben Moglen's group to confirm if it was Free; this was not clear at cursory glance.

I think it is indeed interesting to make the distinction between open, encumbered standards and open, Free standards. I think the industry, developers, users, consumers, businesses, and progress in general are better served by the minimizing of patent rewards.

I would suggest "open unencumbered standard" or "open free standard" as modifiers of "open standrd"; Free standards are open, but not all open standards are Free.


> Message du 19/07/06 10:22
> De : "Stefano Maffulli" <stef at>
> A : discussion at
> Copie à : 
> Objet : Beyond 'open standard'
> Hello all,
> I am dealing with a paper about standards and Free Software and I've
> found out that the term 'open standard' is a very common term in
> literature (and commercial advertising).  According to most of the
> definitions I found, an 'open standard' can be patented and, at best,
> subject to RAND licensing policies.  This translate into 'open standard
> _can_ be impossible to implement in Free Software'.
> Now, since I am summarizing in this paper what defines a standard that
> is implementable in Free Software, it would be nice to propose also a
> term that is non controversial like 'open standard'.  
> Free standard is not good: I don't think it's savvy to replicate the
> fight between 'open' and 'free'.  A friend whispered 'non discriminatory
> standard' but he agrees that the negation at the beginning is less than
> optimal.  I couldn't think of any more solutions, so I ask here two
> questions:  
> 1) does it make sense to introduce in the Free Software community a new
> term that is non-controversial and more precise than the generic 'open
> standard'?
> 2) if yes, what would that term be?
> Any suggestion appreciated.
> bye
> stef
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