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Who owns the PDF format?

Question:

Who owns the PDF format?

Answer:

Although Adobe originally designed and maintained the PDF format, they made it open format in 2008. Therefore it is no longer under ownership of any kind.

Adobe, the ISO, Ghostscript and Tracker Software

Adobe displayed shrewd business logic when they offered the PDF format in open format. This meant that software developers worldwide could create and provide tools for the creation, modification, viewing and printing of PDF files - as long as they adhered to the PDF specifications that Adobe defined. PDF stands for 'Portable Document Format,' and it developed as a result of the Adobe Postscript Language that printing, design and publishing houses have used historically worldwide. The Adobe Postscript Language allowed the output of documents to printer format and enabled content far beyond the capabilities of early computers and printers.

The PDF format was designed to allow users to create documents that would present in the same manner on all PCs. The functionality of PDF format means that it is not necessary to worry about whether fonts, images and other content is available when PDF files are shared between users on different computers. This is because those components are contained within the PDF file itself and do not depend on additional applications (other than a PDF reader) in order to display as they did on the author's computer. The compatibility/consistency problems that this setup avoids were a major issue for other formats - even when the same software was used. Additionally, it was necessary to have a license to read files - which often meant that secondary users could not view files even when there were no compatibility issues. This problem was resolved when Adobe released the free Acrobat Reader. PDF format has since become the industry leader for documents worldwide. It is a multi-billion dollar market and Adobe are the undisputed leaders - shrewd business logic indeed!

Adobe started to face criticism in the late 1990s because they began placing obstacles in the way of third-party developers. These obstacles made the duplication of some of the PDF functionality difficult, and in some cases a proprietary issue. This was because they were providing one of very few PDF readers available and also writing the PDF format specifications. Although the format was open, it included content and functionality that the free Adobe Reader would only recognize when an expensive certificate had been purchased from Adobe. It was this mounting criticism, as well as other factors, that led to Adobe giving stewardship of the the PDF format and its future direction to the ISO (International Organization for Standardization). Any software company has the right to create and offer tools and applications for the PDF format. It is not necessary to reference Adobe or the ISO as long as the standards of the format that the ISO maintains are followed.

Ghostscript is an open source PDF library for the creation and modification of PDF files that volunteers created and maintain. Most of the free/cheap PDF creation tools use the Ghostscript library as the basis of their products, as it is generally royalty-free.

However, the applications that Tracker Software develops and maintains do not use Ghostscript or any other third-party library. They are entirely the product and creation of Tracker Software Products (Canada) Ltd.  Our software developers create their own product libraries and tool sets for the creation, modification, viewing and printing of PDF files to standards far beyond those that free products achieve, and our products are amongst the most robust and feature-rich available worldwide.

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