A standards organization, standards body, standards developing organization (SDO), or standards setting organization (SSO) is any organization whose primary activities are developing, coordinating, promulgating, revising, amending, reissuing, interpreting, or otherwise producing technical standards that are intended to address the needs of some relatively wide base of affected adopters.
Most standards are voluntary in the sense that they are offered for adoption by people or industry without being mandated in law. Some standards become mandatory when they are adopted by regulators as legal requirements in particular domains.
The term formal standard refers specifically to a specification that has been approved by a standards setting organization. The term de jure standard refers to a standard mandated by legal requirements or refers generally to any formal standard. In contrast, the term de facto standard refers to a specification (or protocol or technology) that has achieved widespread use and acceptance – often without being approved by any standards organization (or receiving such approval only after it already has achieved widespread use). Examples of de facto standards that were not approved by any standards organizations (or at least not approved until after they were in widespread de facto use) include the Hayes command set developed by Hayes, Apple's TrueType font design and the PCL protocol used by Hewlett-Packard in the computer printers they produced.
Normally, the term standards organization is not used to refer to the individual parties participating within the standards developing 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.
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. The three largest and most well-established such organizations are the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which have each existed for more than 50 years (founded in 1947, 1906, and 1865, respectively) and which 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, while others have been built from scratch by groups of experts who sit on various technical committees (TCs). These three organizations together comprise the World Standards Cooperation (WSC) alliance.
ISO is composed of the national standards bodies (NSBs), one per member economy. The IEC is similarly composed of national committees, one per member economy. In some cases, the national committee to the IEC of an economy may also be the ISO member from that country or economy. ISO and IEC are private international organizations that are not established by any international treaty. Their members may be non-governmental organizations or governmental agencies, as selected by ISO and IEC (which are privately-established organizations).
The ITU is a treaty-based organization established as a permanent agency of the United Nations, in which governments are the primary members, although other organizations (such as non-governmental organizations and individual companies) can also hold a form of direct membership status in the ITU as well. Another example of a treaty-based international standards organization with government membership is the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
In addition to these, a large variety of independent international standards organizations such as the ASME, the ASTM International, the IEEE, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), SAE International, TAPPI, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and the Universal Postal Union (UPU) develop and publish standards for a variety of international uses. In many such cases, these international standards organizations are not based on the principle of one member per country. Rather, membership in such organizations is open to those interested in joining and willing to agree to the organization's by-laws – having either organizational/corporate or individual technical experts as members.
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 Arabic 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. These rules were laid down in Directive 98/34/EC with the goal of providing transparency and control with regard to technical regulations.
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), EAC East Africa Standards Committee www.eac-quality.net, and the Gulf Standardasation Organasation for GCC Arab Countries.
In general, each country or economy has a single recognized national standards body (NSB). A national standards body is likely the sole member from that economy in ISO; ISO currently has 161 members. National standards bodies usually do not prepare the technical content of standards, which instead is developed by national technical societies.
|Brazilian National Standards Organization||ABNT||Brazil|
|Spanish Association for Standarization and Certification||AENOR||Spain|
|French association for Standardization||AFNOR||France|
|American National Standards Institute||ANSI||U.S.|
|British Standards Institution||BSI||U.K.|
|Dirección General de Normas||DGN||Mexico|
|Deutsches Institut für Normung||DIN||Germany|
|Instituto Argentino de Normalización y Certificación||IARM||Argentina|
|Bureau of Standards of Jamaica||BSJ||Jamaica|
|Colombian Institute of Technical Standards and Certification||ICONTEC||Colombia|
|Japanese Industrial Standards Committee||JISC||Japan|
|Korean Agency for Technology and Standards||KATS||Korea (Republic)|
|South African Bureau of Standards||SABS||South Africa|
|Standardization Administration of China||SAC||China|
|Standards Council of Canada||SCC||Canada|
|Swedish Standards Institute||SIS||Sweden|
|Finnish Standards Association||SFS||Finland|
|Swiss Association for Standardization||SNV||Switzerland|
|Standards New Zealand||SNZ||New Zealand|
|Ente Nazionale Italiano di Unificazione||UNI||Italy|
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 of the 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.
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.
When an organization develops standards which may be used openly, it is common to have formal rules published regarding the process. This may include:
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.
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."
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 organizations (SSOs). 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 OpenOffice.org, 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.