One of the hallmarks of the FLOSS philosophy is its reliance upon open standards.

The OSI has the one definition of an open standard. The FSF has its own

There are many bodies which produce official standards: OSI, ITU, ETSI, IEEE, and so on.

The standards most software developers will be familiar with are those which define programming languages such as C and C++. But they touch many other things as well (such as ISO/IEC 14496, better known as MPEG-4).

The standards are certainly 'freely available' in that anyone can purchase a copy - though they are often quite expensive. But are they necessarily open standards?

MPEG-4 is a prime example, as it is burdened with issues surrounding patents.

Are there other examples of such burdened standards? How does a FLOSS developer deal with this in providing an implementation of them?

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    Standards are hard to keep "open" because letting people make changes to them inevitably leads to conflicts, and leads to xkcd.com/927 Jul 2, 2015 at 15:22
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    Regarding having to pay for copies and not having the right to distribute copies after buying them: I think a standard can be open while a specific document describing the standard is not.
    – Philipp
    Jul 2, 2015 at 15:29
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    @ratchetfreak: The term "open standard" does not mean the standard can be forked/modified by everyone, but rather that having the standards text should be sufficient to be able to create an implementation of the standard. Jul 2, 2015 at 17:24

2 Answers 2


The definition of an open standard is quite different from that of open source.

The definition mostly governs the processes which are used to define standards. The "openness" applies to the definition process being open to input from any parties it concerns and being transparent to the general public.

All it says about using an open standard is (emphasis mine):

Standards specifications are made accessible to all for implementation and deployment. Affirming standards organizations have defined procedures to develop specifications that can be implemented under fair terms. Given market diversity, fair terms may vary from royalty-free to fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms (FRAND).

These "fair terms" include no commitment to free distribution, which is the cornerstone of the open source definition.

There is also nothing which governs the right to create derivate works. That's because in case of a standard, creating derivates is usually not desired. The intention of a standard is to convince everyone to follow it to ensure interoperability. Someone creating a slightly different yet incompatible competing standard would be counter-productive for that intention.

So no, Open Source and Open Standards have nothing to do with each other.

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    When one has to purchase a standard this is really blocking accessibility, as many potential users may refuse to buy it. No matter if it is about the money to be spent or because of the cumbersome procedure to purchase it. Hence from the perspecitve of accessibility most official standards are not open. Jul 3, 2015 at 6:32

If you are looking for what's comparable to free software in standards, that would be open standards which are minimalistic, as explained here by the FSFE.

According to FSFE's definition of open standards, FRAND would not be considered compatible with free software. According to FSFE, an open standard is any standard implementable with Free Software.

So it depends on the definition of open standards you use. You can compare the definitions of different organizations on Wikipedia.

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