Take for example a technical standard, that covers some communication protocol or any arbitrary mathematical algorithm. It is an idea of some kind. Could this technical standard be patented? Licensed? What is the legal status of such a standard? Could fixing this standard in any tangible form change anything in its patent-ability?

As far as I understand, should somebody implement the aforementioned communication protocol or algorithm in software or hardware, then this implementation becomes a separate entity and could in turn be patented and licensed. Am I correct? Could initial standard somehow prohibit creating such implementations? Could it require a license of some sorts for this?

1 Answer 1


Copyright and patents are two very very different things. Copyrighting a standard means the wording of the standard can not be copied without the copyright holders permission. It does not protect the ideas expressed in the document, just the way those ideas are expressed. IEEE standards, for example, are copyrighted by the IEEE and therefore you can't make a copy of the Ethernet specification, you need to buy it from them. That has nothing to do with implementing an Ethernet device.

To implement something described in a technical specification might or might not require one or more patent licenses. The authors of the standard may not even be aware that something they require for the standard has already been invented and patented by someone else.

Many standard bodies do impose a requirement on participants in the standard's creation that they offer licenses to any patents they own that are needed to implement the standard on a fair and equal basis to all. It is called FRAND - the acronym for fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing.

  • Your answer seems to have put pieces in places in my head, thank you. From your answer I understand, that a standard is nothing else, but a creative work, that is protected by a Copyright law. Like a book or a film. Nobody could reproduce this standard without author's permission. But, on the other hand, any other party could publish a very similar protocol and there absolutely could be two similar, but different enough protocol standards to separately copyright each. Am I correct?
    – PF4Public
    Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 21:35
  • Now let's say, any other party is implementing this protocol in software. Likewise software as a whole is a creative work and is protected by Copyright law. Some parts of a software could be patented as an invention. Not a whole software, but a small parts of it, those serve some purpose and are innovative. Given all this, if some parts of implementation are patented, other parties need to either license them or create other solutions, less efficient for example. Is it how it all works?
    – PF4Public
    Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 21:35
  • 1
    Anyone who holds a copy of a technical standard rightfully in their hands is allowed to read it, read it again until they understand it, and then create things that conform to the standard, as far as copyright is concerned. The things described by the standard may be covered by patents which is an entirely different matter.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Dec 8, 2019 at 21:46

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