Standards organizations: Wikis


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A standards organization, standards body, standards development organization or SDO is any entity whose primary activities are developing, coordinating, promulgating, revising, amending, reissuing, interpreting, or otherwise maintaining standards that address the interests of a wide base of users outside the standards development organization.

Most voluntary standards are offered for use by people, regulators, or industry. When a published standard achieves widespread acceptance and dominance it can become a broader de facto standard for an industry. This has happened with the modem protocol developed by Hayes, Apple's TrueType font standard and the PCL protocol used by Hewlett-Packard in the computer printers they produced.

Normally, the term standards organization does not include the parties participating in the standards development organization in the capacity of founders, benefactors, stakeholders, members or contributors, who themselves may function as the standards organizations.



Standards organizations can be classified by their role, position and the extent of their influence on the local, national, regional and global standardization arena.

By geographic designation, there are international, regional, and national standards bodies (the latter often referred to as NSBs). By technology or industry designation, there are standards developing organizations (SDOs) and also standards setting organizations (SSOs) also known as consortia. Standards organizations may be governmental, quasi-governmental or non-governmental entities. Quasi- and non-governmental standards organizations are often non-profit organizations.


International Standards Organizations

Broadly, an international standards organization develops international standards. (This does not necessarily restrict the use of other published standards internationally.)

There are many international standards organizations. For example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have existed for more than 50 years (founded in 1947, 1906, and 1865, respectively) and they are all based in Geneva, Switzerland. They have established tens of thousands of standards covering almost every conceivable topic. Many of these are then adopted worldwide replacing various incompatible 'homegrown' standards. Many of these standards are naturally evolved from those designed in-house within an industry, or by a particular country, whilst others have been built from scratch by groups of experts who sit on various technical committees (TCs).

ISO is composed of the National Standards Bodies (NSBs), one per member economy. The IEC is composed of "National Committees", one per member economy. In some cases, the National Committee to the IEC of an economy may be the ISO member from that country or economy. The World Standards Cooperation (WSC) is a cooperative effort between ISO, the IEC, and the ITU.

ISO and IEC are non-treaty international organizations. Their members may be non-governmental organizations or governmental agencies. The ITU and Codex Alimentarius are two examples of treaty-based organizations (where only governments are the primary members). The members of these organizations are the government foreign ministry, and/or appropriate regulatory body (telecoms regulator, agricultural, food safety or pharmaceuticals regulator, etc).

In addition to these, independent standards organizations such as ASTM International develop and publish technical standards for international use. Others set standards within some more specialized context, such as SAE International, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), TAPPI, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), IEEE, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) or the American Petroleum Institute (API). Often, these international standards organizations are not based on the principle of one member per country. Rather, membership in such international organizations is open, having either organizational/corporate or individual technical expert members from around the globe.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU), by means of its Standards Board, defines, approves, and maintains postal standards. The SB’s objectives are to provide strategic direction and to plan, develop and maintain technical and communications standards aimed at improving postal operational efficiency and quality of service, besides promoting interoperability and compatibility of all UPU and international postal telematics initiatives.

Regional Standards Organizations

Regional standards bodies also exist such as the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and the Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) in Europe, the Pacific Area Standards Congress (PASC), the Pan American Standards Commission (COPANT), the African Organization for Standardization (ARSO), the Arab Industrial Development and Mining Organization (AIDMO), and others.

In the European Union, only standards created by CEN, CENELEC and ETSI are recognized as "European standards", and member states are required to notify the European Commission and each other about all the draft technical regulations concerning ICT products and services before they are adopted in national law.[1] These rules were laid down in Directive 98/34/EC with the goal of providing transparency and control with regard to technical regulations.[1]

Sub-regional standards organizations also exist such as the MERCOSUR Standardization Association (AMN), the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality (CROSQ), and the ASEAN Consultative Committee for Standards and Quality (ACCSQ), and the Gulf Standardasation Organasation for GCC Arab Countries.

National Standards Bodies (NSBs)

In general, each country or economy has a single recognized Standards Body (NSB). Examples include the Brazilian National Standards Organization (ABNT), the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Deutsches Institut für Bautechnik (DIBt), the British Standards Institution (BSI), the Mexican Dirección General de Normas (DGN), the Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN), the Instituto Argentino de Normalización y Certificación (IRAM), the Japanese Industrial Standards Committee (JISC), the Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS), the Nederlandse Norm (NEN), the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS), the Standardization Administration of China (SAC), the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS), Standards Norway (SN), the Swiss Association for Standardization (SNV), or Standards New Zealand (SNZ). A national standards body is likely the sole member from that economy in ISO.

NSBs may be either public or private sector organizations, or combinations of the two. For example, the three NSBs of Canada, Mexico and the United States are, respectively, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), the General Bureau of Standards (Dirección General de Normas, DGN), and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). SCC is a Canadian Crown Corporation, DGN is a governmental agency within the Mexican Ministry of Economy, and ANSI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with members from both the private and public sectors. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. government's standards agency, cooperates with ANSI under a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the United States Standards Strategy. The determinates of whether an NSB for a particular economy is a public or private sector body may include the historical and traditional roles that the private sector fills in public affairs in that economy or the development stage of that economy.

Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs)

Whereas the term national standards body (NSB) is generally used to refer to the one-per-country standardization organization which is that country’s member to ISO, the term Standards Developing Organization (SDO) generally refers to the thousands of industry or sector based standards organizations which develop and publish industry specific standards. Some economies feature only an NSB with no other SDOs. Large economies like the United States and Japan feature several hundred SDOs, many of which are coordinated by the central NSBs of each country (ANSI and JISC in this case). In some cases, international industry-based SDOs such as the IEEE and the Audio Engineering Society (AES) may have direct liaisons with international standards organizations, having input to international standards without going through a national standards body. SDOs are differentiated from Standards Setting Organizations (SSOs) (see Trends below) in that SDOs may be accredited to develop standards using open and transparent processes.

Scope of work

The developers of technical standards are generally concerned with interface standards, which detail how products interconnect with one another, and safety standards, which establish characteristics required for a product or process to be safe for the humans, animals and environment. The subject of their work can be narrow or broad. Another area of interest is in defining how the behavior and performance of products is measured and described in data sheets.

Overlapping or competing standards bodies tend to cooperate purposefully, by seeking to define boundaries between the scope of their work, and by operating in a hierarchical fashion in terms of national, regional and international scope; international organizations tend to have as members national organizations; and standards emerging at national level (such as BS 5750) can be adopted at regional levels (BS 5750 was adopted as EN 29000) and at international levels (BS 5750 was adopted as ISO 9000).

Unless adopted by a government, standards carry no force in law. However, most jurisdictions have truth in advertising laws, and ambiguities can be reduced if a company offers a product that is "compliant" with a standard.

Standards development process

When an organization develops standards which may be used openly, it is common to have formal rules published regarding the process. This may include:

  • Who is allowed to vote and have input on new or revised standards
  • What is the formal step-by-step process
  • How are bias and commercial interests handled
  • How are negative votes or ballots handled
  • What type of consensus is required
  • etc

Although it can be a tedious and lengthy process, formal standard setting is essential to developing new technologies. For example, since 1865, the telecommunications industry has depended on the ITU to establish the telecommunications standards that have been adopted worldwide. The ITU has created numerous telecommunications standards including telegraph specifications, allocation of telephone numbers, interference protection, and protocols for a variety of communications technologies. The standards that are created through standards organizations lead to improved product quality, ensured interoperability of competitors’ products, and they provide a technological baseline for future research and product development. Formal standard setting through standards organizations has numerous benefits for consumers including increased innovation, multiple market participants, reduced production costs, and the efficiency effects of product interchangeability.

Standards distribution and Copyright

Since the standards development process costs a great deal of money, time and resources, virtually all but a few standards are distributed on a commercial basis rather than being provided free. A technical library at a university may have copies of technical standards on hand. Major libraries in large cities may also have access to many technical standards.

Some users of standards mistakenly assume that all standards are in the public domain. This assumption is correct only for standards produced by the central governments whose publications are not amenable to copyright. Any standards produced by non-governmental entities remain the intellectual property of their developers and are protected, just like any other publications, by copyright laws and international treaties. However, the intellectual property extends only to the standard itself and not to its use. For instance if a company sells a device that is compliant with a given standard, it is not liable for further payment to the standards organization except in the special case when the organization holds patent rights or some other ownership of the intellectual property described in the standard.

It is, however, liable for any patent infringement by its implementation, just as with any other implementation of technology. The standards organizations give no guarantees that patents relevant to a given standard have been identified. ISO standards draw attention to this in the foreword with a statement like the following: "Attention is drawn to the possibility that some of the elements of this document may be the subject of patent rights. ISO and IEC shall not be held responsible for identifying any or all such patent rights."[2]


The ever-quickening pace of technology evolution is now more than ever affecting the way new standards are proposed, developed and implemented.

Since traditional, widely respected standards organizations tend to operate at a slower pace than technology evolves, many standards they develop are becoming less relevant because of the inability of their developers to keep abreast with the technological innovation. As a result, a new class of standards setters appeared on the standardization arena: the industry consortia or Standards Setting Organization (SSO). Despite having limited financial resources, some of them enjoy truly international acceptance. One example is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) whose standards for HTML, CSS, and XML are used universally throughout the world. There are also community-driven associations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a worldwide network of volunteers who collaborate to set standards for lower level software solutions.

Some industry-driven standards development efforts don't even have a formal organizational structure. They are projects funded by large corporations. Among them are the, a Sun Microsystems-sponsored international community of volunteers working on an open-standard software that aims to compete with Microsoft Office, and two commercial groups competing fiercely with each other to develop an industry-wide standard for high-density optical storage.


  1. ^ a b European Union: Directive 98/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 1998 laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations Official Journal L é04, 21.7.1998, p. 37–48. (This page also provides references to amendments.) See also European Commission: Enterprise Directorate-General: Vademecum on European Standardisation. (This document contains a consolidated version of Directive 98/34/EC, dated 15 November 2003.) Accessed 2009-05-05.
  2. ^ Quoted from ISO/IEC 24751-1:2008: "Information technology - Individualized adaptability and accessibility in e-learning, education and training - Part 1: Framework and reference model", p. v.

See also

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