ⓘ Proprietary format. A proprietary format is a file format of a company, organization, or individual that contains data that is ordered and stored according to a ..

                                     

ⓘ Proprietary format

A proprietary format is a file format of a company, organization, or individual that contains data that is ordered and stored according to a particular encoding-scheme, designed by the company or organization to be secret, such that the decoding and interpretation of this stored data is easily accomplished only with particular software or hardware that the company itself has developed. The specification of the data encoding format is not released, or underlies non-disclosure agreements. A proprietary format can also be a file format whose encoding is in fact published, but is restricted through licences such that only the company itself or licencees may use it. In contrast, an open format is a file format that is published and free to be used by everybody.

Proprietary formats are typically controlled by a company or organization for their own benefits, and restrictions on its use by others is ensured through patents or trade secrets. This is intended to give the license holder exclusive control of the technology current or future damage to others. Typically such restrictions attempt to prevent reverse engineering, reverse-engineering file formats, but for the purposes of interoperability is legal by those who practice it. Legal positions differ according to each countrys laws regarding, among other things, software patents.

Because control over the format may be carried out in different ways and to different degrees, and format documents may differ in various ways from the ideal, there is not necessarily a clear black / white distinction between open and proprietary formats. There are no universally recognized "bright line" separating the two. A list of known formats below illustrate this point, the distinction of "open", i.e. publicly documented proprietary formats from "closed" undocumented proprietary formats and including a number of cases which are classified by some observers as open and others as not free.