In information technology, proprietary describes a technology or product that is owned exclusively by a single company that carefully guards knowledge about the technology or the product's inner workings. Some proprietary products can only function properly if at all when used with other products owned by the same company. An example of a proprietary product is Adobe Acrobat , whose Portable Document Format ( PDF ) files can only be read with the Acrobat Reader. Microsoft is often held up as the best example of a company that takes the proprietary approach. It should be observed that the proprietary approach is a traditional approach. Throughout history, the knowledge of how an enterprise makes its products has usually been guarded as a valuable secret and such legal devices as the patent, trademark, and copyright were invented to protect a company's intellectual property.
A prime motivation behind development of products using proprietary technology is straightforward - buyers are compelled to use other products marketed by the same company. Microsoft is often held up as the exemplary company in terms of proprietary sophistication. Nevertheless, the strongest reason in favor of using proprietary standards leads to the strongest reason against: customers may be disinclined to buy one product that limits their choice of others. The IT world is increasingly moving toward open standardization.
Criteria for open standard products include: absence of specificity to a particular vendor, wide distribution of standards, and easy and free or low-cost accessibility. One of the best known examples of an open standard product is the Linux operating system . (There are free versions of Linux and for-cost versions. The latter come with accessability to service and updating.)