A standard arising from uncoordinated processes in the competitive marketplace. When a particular set of product or process specifications gains market share such that it acquires authority or influence, the set of specifications is then considered a de facto standard.

Example: IBM-compatible personal computer architecture


A standard arising from a formal, coordinated process in which key participants in a market seek consensus. Use of the resulting standard is voluntary. Key participants may include not only designers and producers, but also consumers, corporate and government purchasing officials, and regulatory authorities.

Example: photographic film speed--ISO 100, 200, 400, etc., set by International Organization for Standardization (ISO)


A standard set by government. A procurement standard specifies requirements that must be met by suppliers to government. A regulatory standard may set safety, health, environmental, or related criteria. Voluntary standards developed for private use often become mandatory when referenced within government regulation or procurement.

Example: automobile crash protection—air bag and/or passive seat restraint mandated by National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration

FIGURE 2-1 Types of standards.

U.S. positions in international standards organizations, are discussed in this chapter.

Not all private-sector standards are set through consensus. Many arise through competition in the commercial marketplace. When one firm's product becomes sufficiently widespread that its unique specifications guide the decisions and actions of other market participants, those specifications become a de facto market standard. De facto standards are sometimes called industry standards. A de facto standard is usually promoted by a firm or organization in pursuit of commercial benefits. These benefits include gaining economies of scale, protecting or increasing market share, and obtaining revenues from licensing of intellectual property, among others. The IBM personal computer architecture, established and promoted by IBM beginning in 1981, is an example of a de facto industry standard.1

De facto standards may arise without formal sponsorship, simply through widespread, common usage. Cultural norms and customs, including informal business practices, are unsponsored standards. The arrangement of keys on a typewriter or computer keyboard—the QWERTY keyboard, so named because of the placement of those letters in one row—is an example of an unsponsored, de facto technology standard. Although no firm or group of firms actively promotes the QWERTY standard, it remains the standard arrangement of most keyboards.2 Most standards of interest in the context of this report, however, are actively sponsored by one or more organizations or individuals.

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