The three different areas and the examples have illustrated several catalytic functions of standards for innovation. First, the standardisation process reduces the time to market of inventions, research results and innovative technologies. Second, standards themselves promote the diffusion of innovative products, which is most important for the economic impact of innovation. A third more indirect, but important function of standards is that they level the playing field and therefore promote competition and consequently innovation. Fourth, compatibility standards are the basis for innovation in network industries e.g. for communication networks (e.g. GSM), which are increasingly penetrating our economies. In network industries, standards also facilitate the substitution of old technologies by new ones, e.g. by forward and backward compatibility, and also to allow the coexistence of old and new technologies. New platform standards are often the basis for innovation in downstream markets (e.g. GSM as platform for numerous mobile services), but also in upstream markets. Besides these network related functions, a generic characteristic of standards is that they reflect user needs and therefore promote the purchase, i.e. the diffusion, of new products by early adopters. Finally, standards set the minimum requirements for environmental, health and safety aspects and consequently promote trust especially in innovative products. Despite all these catalytic functions of standards for innovation, there are also shortcomings and problems. First, standards are the outcome of a consensus process of all interested parties and consequently represent the smallest denominator, which is often not a strong incentive for innovation activities, compared to more challenging technological specifications possibly set by governmental top-down regulations. Second, standards which are technology-specific and over-prescriptive instead of technologyneutral and focused on functionalities and performance characteristics do not create leeway and competitive incentives for alternative innovative solutions. Third, standards can also create lock-ins in existing technologies, especially if they do not specify interfaces or allow compatibility with follow-up technologies, because this hinders consecutive innovations in an industry. Especially proprietary standards of single or groups of dominant players may prevent competing technologies to market access and therefore thwart innovation.

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ERIM report series research in management Erasmus Research Institute of Management

Blind, K. (2009, August 28). Catalytic Functions of Standards. ERIM report series research in management Erasmus Research Institute of Management. Retrieved from