Proprietary Specifications – An Illegal Tender for Hospital Equipment.

Today we have a story out of Kathmandu in Nepal which tells us of a tender by a Hospital for radiotherapy equipment that was deemed illegal according to Nepal’s Procurement Act.

According to the story from, the tender was made using specifications which were proprietary.  Proprietary specifications are specifications that either name a specific brand of product or use criteria which is so specific that it deems all other goods unacceptable.

In Nepal, their Hospitals are public entities therefore they are obliged to abide by their public procurement regulations.  Similar regulations are common in all government procurement regardless of which country you are in.

This article is a good reminder for anyone involved in government procurement to avoid proprietary specifications, but what about private sector bids?  Should you use proprietary specifications or not?

The answer for most will depend on the products, the volume and frequency of purchase, and your tolerance for variations.

Proprietary specification and Semi-Proprietary Specifications

Proprietary specification are great anytime you want to have an established standard product and do not wish to deviate from that standard.  A good example would be the fire alarm system of a new structure on a corporate campus.  This is an item you would want to match to the fire alarm of existing building to facilitate central monitoring.

For items that don’t need to be matched up with another existing system, a best practice before you try to standardize is to perform a thorough technical review from the full range of available products.  I can recall a number of times where Clients have run their own sampling or testing periods prior to settling on a product.  This can be done with anything including finishes, furniture, or equipment.

Once you have tested all of the products available and have established a preference, you may want to shortlist the products to a small sample of the top three or four best performing products.  At this point, you have two options.

Option 1 – Run your own pricing solicitation

If you plan on purchasing a specific product in significant quantities, you should run your own pricing solicitation.  This will ensure you are aggregating all of your projected spend in order to secure the best overall price.  Typically, you will want to contact the manufacturer of the selected products and ask for a preferred pricing agreement.  In some case, you may need to speak with authorized distributors of the product.  Either way, the process is the same.

Option 2 – Create a semi proprietary specification

If your standardized product is something you know you want to standardize, but you don’t expect to buy large quantities, and you can tolerate some amount of variability, it may be prudent to write a semi-proprietary specification.  Semi-proprietary specification are specifications which limit the contractor’s choice of products to a small set of similar products.  This gives you and your contractors flexibility to select the product that offers the best price (or is most available) while still preserving some standardization in your specifications.

Performance Standards Specifications

Items which you do not need to be standardized should be specified in accordance with performance standards which allow for a broad range of products.  Your performance standards should be written to allow for broad interpretations, but not so broad that you sacrifice quality.

Make sure that your performance specifications address visual, performance, quality, and energy usage criteria.  This will ensure that your non-proprietary specified products not only look the way you want, they perform the way you want too.


So that is how I recommend you use proprietary, semi-proprietary, and non-proprietary specifications.  How do you use specifications to standardize your projects?  Are you exclusively using one form of specifications or do you use a mixture of these?  Tell me your stories.

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