Policy ForumIntellectual Property

A Better Route to Tech Standards

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Science  28 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6174, pp. 972-973
DOI: 10.1126/science.1246439

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Technological standards are ubiquitous, whether they allow consumers to communicate seamlessly across wireless networks or manufacturers to procure goods across complex global supply chains. These standards—shaped by standard-setting organizations (SSOs) and participating engineers, academics, lawyers, and executives—in turn shape how new technologies evolve, specifying rules for how standard-compliant products must work and interact with other components. This standardization process is under tremendous stress. Many disputes roiling courts and administrative bodies around the world—such as those involving Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung—concern commitments made during the standardization process and the ways that firms have sought to “game” the system. We explore why the system is breaking down and propose a way in which standard setting could be redesigned to address these problems.