proprietary solution

Contributor(s): Stephen J. Bigelow

A proprietary solution is a hardware or software product or combination of products and services that is tied to a specific vendor, to the exclusion of all other vendors. While proprietary solutions may be quite effective, the lack of competition from other vendors in the industry can make the solution costly to acquire and maintain, and it may not be fully interoperable with other products in the client's organization. For example, a client's busy order entry system may be built on expensive custom-developed software, but the resulting database built by the order entry system may not export data to Excel or another open database for business analytics -- usually compelling the client to rely on that vendor's own tools or add-ons.

This was last updated in August 2007

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Any solution that is comprised of licensed software is a proprietary solution, because licensed software is "tied to a specific vendor, to the exclusion of other vendors."

A solution can only be defined "non-proprietary" if its components are license-free.

Lack of competition does not define a solution as being a "proprietary technology". For example Microsoft Windows is available through thousands of suppliers but it is still classified as being "proprietary".
Sometimes it helps to look at this in regards to the components being used, and whether or not those components can be swapped out for something else (another vendor or maker) and still work as designed. Anything designed to keep other players out of the space (floating definition of space) is a proprietary solution. An open solution is more than just licensing, it's also the ability to swap components and elements without regard to vendor and not suffer degradation of operation or performance. If you can't do either, you're very likely dealing with a proprietary solution.
The official definition of what is "proprietary" in terms of technology relates to three specific areas:
1. is owned by one entity
2. is distributed under license
3. is protected by patent

The term is not defined by whether or not is compatible with "swappable" technologies or choice of supplier.

If a patented and licensed software technology is the nucleus to a system from which other components of the entire system must rely on, even if the other parts of that system are off-the-shelf components, the solution is still proprietary as it is reliant on one central patented technology. The system is still locked into one vendor.

Example: Microsoft Windows is a proprietary technology despite the fact that it is compatible with thousands of swappable off-the shelf hardware and software technologies.