A newer version of this paper was published in The International Journal of IT Standards and Standardization Research, Vol. 4 No. 1, January - June 2006. This paper is the property of Standards Engineering Society. It was submitted to the World Standards Day paper competition for 1998, and won second place. It was published in Standards Engineering, Vol. 50, No. 6, November/December 1998, p. 1-6. It is reprinted here with permission.

The Principles of Open Standards

by Ken Krechmer
Communications Standards Review

757 Greer Road
Palo Alto, CA USA 94303-3024
+1 650 856-8836
[email protected]

"Who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?" 1 The values underlying Open Standards are impressive. In the USA the Open Standards concept has been applied to technical standards 2 since 1918 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 3 as the administrator and coordinator of the United States private sector voluntary standardization system. A major goal of ANSI is to ensure that its guiding principles of openness, consensus and due process - the cornerstones of Open Standards - are followed.

The personal computer revolution and the following Internet explosion have resulted in a large influx of new technical standards stakeholders.4 These new stakeholders are making new demands on the Open Standards processes. Today, considering the rapid changes in technology and the expanding importance of technical standards, ANSI and its Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) need to reexamine what constitutes the "free and open encounter" that Open Standards strive to achieve.

Open Standards

Open Standards is a changing concept, molding itself to the evolving needs of an open, consensus based society. Currently ten concepts are considered, at least by some, to constitute part of the principles of Open Standards:

  1. Openness - all stakeholders may participate in the standards development process.
  2. Consensus - all interests are discussed and agreement found, no domination.
  3. Due Process - balloting and an appeals process may be used to find resolution.
  4. Open IPR - holders of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) must identify themselves during the standards development process.
  5. Open World - same standard for the same function, world-wide.
  6. Open Access - all may access committee documents, drafts and completed standards.
  7. Open Meeting - all may participate in standards development meetings
  8. On-going Support - standards are supported until user interest ceases rather than when provider interest declines.
  9. Open Interfaces - interfaces allow additional functions, public or proprietary.
  10. Open Use - low or no charge for IPR necessary to implement an accredited standard.
The first three principles are at the heart of the existing ANSI Open Standards concept. These are required procedures of the American National Standards Institute for all accredited standards organizations 5. The fourth principle (Open IPR) has been formally added to the standards development process by ANSI, its SDOs and many international standard development organizations. The fifth principle (Open World) is supported by ANSI but not required. The additional five procedures represent Open Standards concepts which are emerging but which are not yet supported by most accredited SDOs. To what extent should Open World and the additional five procedures be considered principles of Open Standards?

Open World

Open World is the principle of unified world-wide standards. ANSI currently supports, but does not require, coordination of US standards work with world-wide standards. Certainly, unifying different regional standards can be a very lengthy effort. Consider the limited progress on metrification in the USA since the passage of the "Metric Act" in 1975. A more positive, but very lengthy, example is the June 1998 approval of European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) TBR 21. TBR 21 in combination with two ETSI Guides defines the different European country variations of analog telephone systems. In Europe, for more than a century, at least 20 separate national telephone equipment markets have existed, each with 1 million to 100 million consumers. ETSI's completion of TBR-21A is now creating a single market of more than 500 million consumers. Of course, definition of the variation is not in itself compatibility, but it is a start after 100 years!

Fortunately the future is not so bleak. Understanding that it takes very long spans of time to resolve a lack of coordination in the past appears to be a significant contributor to better coordination in the future. Recently the analog telephone approval standards of Canada and the United States were merged after several years' effort in the ANSI TIA TR-41 committee. And effective work is underway to merge US and European PBX approval standards in the same committee. In addition, new approaches made possible by the use of programmable processors are making compatibility achievable even when competing regional standards do not find common ground.6 So a combination of human efforts and technology appears to be improving the possibility of an Open World.

Open Access

Open Access is the principle that all may see any documents from an accredited SDO. All standards documentation falls into two classes: standards work-in-progress documents and completed formal documents (e.g., standards, test procedures, reports, etc.). Different stakeholders need to access these different classes of documents. Developers who wish to support emerging markets need access to standards work-in-progress. Developers who wish to serve the middle and later stages of the market would like to have free and easy access to the completed standards and similar documents. In the first case, access to the standards committee's work-in-progress is a necessary part of the developer's strategy. In the latter case, free access to completed documents removes a minor economic barrier.

The Internet Society (ISOC) supports a non-accredited standards making organization, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which has pioneered new standards development and distribution procedures based on the Internet itself. While the IETF does not meet the ANSI criteria for consensus and due process, in some ways it offers a very open standards development process. Using the Internet, the IETF makes available electronically both its standards, termed RFCs, and the drafts of such standards at no charge. In fact using the facilities of the Internet, committee discussion of the draft standards can be monitored by anyone and response offered. This rapid widespread development, deployment and implementation of IETF standards has been extremely successful.

The IETF example offers some new direction to accredited standards development organizations. Conversely the concerns of accredited SDOs for balance and due process are being considered by the IETF. Certainly free and open access to standards work-in-progress as well as to the final standards is only part of the IETF success. But it is such a sufficient part that other standards organizations are now doing the same.7

Funding Standards Development
The costs of standards development and standards distribution may be viewed as two separate areas. However revenues relating to one area are often applied to cover costs in the other area. In this manner standards document sales revenues may be applied to cover standards development costs.

Organization Name of Codified Document Funding
Private company Company specifications, practices Profits
Groups of private companies Group's procedures, criteria, rules Pooled profits
IETF Request for comments (RFC) Dues, fees, government funding
Accredited regional Standards bodies Standards Member dues/fees/trade shows
Accredited international Standards bodies International Standards (Recommendations) Member dues/fees/trade shows
Government organization Regulation Taxes

The management of standards development is an overhead cost of the SDO. In addition to revenues from the sale of documents, each SDO may fund its standards development overhead in different ways. Accredited standards bodies fund their efforts with member dues and fees, although trade show revenues is becoming a larger contributor to the overall budget of more SDOs. Such trade shows also promote the use of standards, so the value of trade shows run by accredited standards organizations is two fold for the standards community. Private companies and groups of private companies fund their efforts to develop standards through their own profits. Governments usually fund the development of standards via taxes.

The major cost of standards development - expert participation - is born by the experts' organizations. Whether the necessary experts come from the private sector or the public, their participation is costly not only in direct costs to their organization but also in indirect costs: what the experts might accomplish if they were not working on standards development. Fundamentally the only reason for expert participation is to achieve the benefits of standardization. Expanding the stakeholders to improve market acceptance of the new standard is a basic reason why the experts invest their efforts in standards development. So if offering standards work-in-progress documents at little or no charge increases the number of stakeholders involved in the standards development process, it is an important principal to consider.

Offering free completed standards is only a minor cost reduction for developers or users and may be a significant income reduction for SDOs. Free distribution of completed standards is certainly a move towards "a free and open encounter." But there are only a few market segments where free completed standards may create a significant change in the number of standards stakeholders.

Funding Standards Distribution
The distribution of documents represents a recurring cost. In non-accredited bodies, the question of distribution funding is usually a marketing decision and often the documents produced are available at no charge. Conversely, accredited SDOs often use document charges to avoid increasing members' dues.

In the past, the fixed costs of printing, handling, storing and shipping documents suggested that a charge to the user acquiring the document was appropriate. With the advent of the Internet it is possible to reduce to near zero the direct costs of document distribution, although the indirect costs of creating and maintaining Internet access to documents has to be considered. This significant reduction in the direct costs of document distribution using the Internet opens the issue of what to charge for standards from any accredited standards organization.

Providing standards documents at no charge expands the distribution of the document; for some segments of the population, such as graduate students, such additional distribution may be important. However if students can access committee work-in-progress documents including drafts of formal documents, they will have almost all of what they need. Conversely, it is difficult to imagine many for-profit developers who will not choose to purchase the final published specification. This argues in favor of providing committee work-in-progress documents at no charge to increase the stakeholders, and for SDOs to continue to sell completed standards to minimize any impact on their existing economic model.

Documentation Rights
A interesting argument is emerging about the legal basis for ownership of standards developed in voluntary standards organizations. Since the standards documents produced are not works for hire, are they owned by the standards organization offering to sell them? Certainly standards organizations are taking steps to address this issue, but providing standards at no charge would appear to avoid it completely. This legal issue is beyond the scope of this paper.

Open Meetings

Too often non-accredited standards organizations develop specifications in some manner and either pass this work to an accredited standards organization or publish it themselves under the label "standard". Why aren't existing accredited organizations used for these tasks?

This question seems to have three possible answers:

The first answer is a fact of life. It is not possible to offer the expertise needed in all standards areas. The second and third answers however, are based on appearances. Possibly the appearances need to change. Currently openness is deemed to be met if all stakeholders can participate in the standards development process. This may present the appearance of a closed committee to those who are not current stakeholders - a subtle but real way that incumbent stakeholders dissuade potential future stakeholders.

Possibly standards development meetings should be open to all (which the IETF offers) as well as provide open access to committee documents. In this way, informed choices may be made about bringing new work to an accredited standards committee. Too often stakeholders in a new technology are reticent to bring their ideas to an accredited standards committee they have no experience with, or access to.

The Open Standards concept may not be well served by stakeholder-only committee meetings. Ultimately, as technology use expands, technical standards stakeholders are everyone. Using the Internet, access to committee discussion can be opened to almost all. This review appears to argue for open standards development meetings. However participation in standards meeting is a significant reason why some organizations join SDOs. So offering free meeting participation to all may well have negative economic consequence to some SDOs.

Meetings open to all also suggests the need for new rules. The news press participation in standards committee meetings has in the past been divisive, not due to the actions of the news press but more to the posturing of the stakeholders. Perhaps news press participation could fairly be limited to passive monitoring, rather than active participation.

On-going Support

On-going Support of accredited standards may offer standards users better value for their capital investment. Users have a difficult time identifying the value to them of standards from accredited SDOs versus specifications (often termed "standards" by marketing departments) from non-accredited SDOs. The concept of on-going support of standards might be a way for accredited SDOs to provide identifiable value to the user community. The development and support of existing standards consists of multiple phases:

Phase Activity Description
1. Create standard The major task of SDOs
2. Fixes Rectify problems identified in initial implementations
3 Maintenance Add new features and keep the standard up to date with related standards work
4. Availability Continue to publish, possibly with a notification of no continuing maintenance.
5. Recision Removal of the published standard from distribution

It is difficult to interest users in the first phase of standards development. The first phase appears to properly be the providence of developers. However, users have a clear interest in maintaining the equipment and systems they have invested in. On-going Support addresses the next four phases of standards work. Possibly with the advantages of the Internet to distribute standards and allow users to keep abreast of the work in standards meetings, greater user involvement in the on-going support of standards would be practical. This appears to be an area where the distribution of standards work-in-progress documentation and some related promotion could bring in more user stakeholders.

Open Interface

Open interfaces is an emerging technical concept applicable only to more complex compatibility standards. The idea that Open Standards should embody such a principle is quite new. But interest in open interfaces has been increasing due to the considerable success of similar procedures in facsimile (T.30) and telephone modems (V.8 and V.32 autobaud procedures).

One way of achieving open interfaces is to implement a new technique termed an "etiquette."8 Etiquettes are a mechanism to negotiate protocols. While a protocol terminates an X.200 (OSI) layer, an etiquette, which may negotiate multiple OSI layer protocols, does not terminate (replace) any protocol layer function. An etiquette is used only for negotiating which protocol or features to employ. The purpose of etiquettes is connectivity and expandability. Proper etiquettes provide:

As long as the etiquette is common between the equipment at both ends, or in the middle, it is possible to receive the code identifying each protocol supported by the equipment at the remote site. Checking this code against a data base of such codes on the web or in a manual, the user can determine what change is necessary in his system or the remote system to enable compatibility.

One of the earliest etiquettes is ITU Recommendation T.30 which is used in all Group 3 facsimile machines. Part of its function includes mechanisms to interoperate with previous Group 2 facsimile machines and it allows new features (public as well as proprietary) to be added to the system without the possibility of losing backward compatibility. More recently the V.8 etiquette was used to negotiate the V.34 modem modulation. Currently G.hs is being developed to provide a similar function in Digital Subscriber Line equipment.

Open Use

Open Use would avoid IPR in public standards. This is a difficult concept to achieve. Remuneration for the use of IPR is supported by law to incent innovation, yet costly IPR, and the overhead associated with acquiring IPR, dissuades developers, especially smaller companies. Finding a middle ground may require the use of an IPR arbitration function such as provided by the World Trade Organization during the development of each standard where IPR is claimed.9

Open Use supports public standards that do not promote private gain. The difficulty is that innovation has been shown to be closely related to private gain. While private gain from public standards is not an objective, supporting innovation is more important to society. Until the American society and its laws change, better IPR arbitration procedures to reduce the complexity of acquiring IPR are the only available means to address this issue.


Open Standards is a basic concept deserving of more active support by all accredited SDOs. Sometimes non-accredited organizations like to term their work "open standards" 10 when they meet few of the ten criteria identified. Some industry organizations develop their specifications and procedures, etc. in an open process. That is, they allow any to participate in the process who can pay the fee, although not necessarily as equals. Microsoft developer's conferences and the Universal ADSL Working Group each offer some level of open process but certainly do not create Open Standards. The rationale behind Open Standards needs greater public exposure. Commercial organizations should not appropriate such an important concept.

ANSI, supported by its SDOs, should be charged formally with developing and implementing the concepts of Open Standards. Nine of these concepts should be considered. The first five principles are already a part of the existing Open Standards process. The next four appear to be emerging and may have significant value. Certain of these concepts have economic and technical import and must be addressed carefully. Based on the review above, the emerging Open Standards principles may be listed in rough priority:

Open Standards concept Impact Risk/reward
Open Access - to committee work-in-progress documents Little revenue loss, possible stakeholder increase low/medium
On-going Support - of accredited standards Increased user participation low/medium
Open Access - to completed committee documents Loss of standard document sales revenue medium/medium
Open Meetings - all may attend meetings Loss of membership dues medium/medium
Open Interfaces New technical requirements medium/high
Open Use - not practical to offer    

Reviewing these concepts on the basis of risk versus reward shows that Open Access to committee work-in-progress and On-going Support, with greater user participation in the later phases of standards work, are low risk ways to enhance the Open Standard process. Implementing these two concepts should be seriously considered.

Over the longer term it appears that funding to SDOs from completed standards sales and from membership dues may be impacted by future expansions of the Open Standards concept. Therefore it is advisable for ANSI accredited organizations to look more to trade shows as a desirable funding sources. And even more important, such trade shows could be used to promote increasing awareness of the value of formal standards. The broader exposure to the principles of Open Standards possible via a trade show format may add credibility to accredited standards work. Several trade shows supported by the standards industry (e.g., SuperComm) have been quite successful. ANSI, in North America, could take a greater roll in bringing together broader coalitions of formal SDOs into existing trade shows, thereby increasing attendance, as well as developing new trade shows where necessary.

Finally, the technical concept of Open Interfaces is emerging and may offer significant new benefits to all standards participants. Participants in standards committee work will have the opportunity to contribute to how this new technology direction will develop.

These are the current and potential principles of Open Standards visible today. Achieving lofty principles requires tireless effort. Total openness is probably impossible. But the task of Open Standards should be to strive towards that impossible perfection, "Where ask is have, where seek is find, Where knock is open wide." 11


1 John Milton, Areopagiticia, A speech for the liberty of unlicensed printing in the Parliament of England, 1644. Return to text

2 In this paper the term "standards" only refers to work from accredited standards organizations. Return to text

3 Founded by five engineering societies and three US government agencies, ANSI remains a private, nonprofit membership organization. ANSI does not itself develop American National Standards; rather it facilitates development by establishing consensus among standards development organizations (SDOs). Return to text

4 Stakeholders are those individuals and organizations that have a material interest in the technical standards development or use. Return to text

5 American National Standards Institute, Procedures for the Development and Coordination of American National Standards, April 1998. Return to text

6 For additional information see Ken Krechmer, Recommendations for the Global information Highway: A Matter of Standards,Winner World Standards Day Paper Competition, 1995, published in ACM StandardView, March 1996. Return to text

7 In July, 1998 ETSI announced that its technical committee TIPHON (Telecommunications and Internet Protocol Harmonization Over Networks) will make available at no charge all committee documents and standards drafts. Return to text

8 Ken Krechmer, Technical Standards: Foundations for the Future, ACM StandardView, March 1996. Return to text

9 This use of WTO arbitration is discussed in greater detail in Ken Krechmer, Communications Standards and Patent Rights: Conflict or Coordination, Standards and Technology Annual Report (STAR) from Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), 1997. Return to text

10 Bill Gates, Compete, Don't Delete, The Economist, June 13, 1998. Return to text

11 Christopher Smart, A Song to David, 1763. This is a paraphrasing of an earlier work "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you". Matthew 7:7. Return to text

Ken Krechmer
Communications Standards Review
757 Greer Road
Palo Alto, California 94303-3024 USA

VOICE: +1 650 856-8836
e-mail: [email protected]

This page was last updated September 13, 1998.

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