The European standard of using commas rather than decimal points in a series of numbers may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and ANSI, the official U.S. representative body in major international standards organizations.

Until recently, the rule at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the world's largest developer of standards, and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the leading global electrical and electronic standards organization, was that all numbers with a decimal part must be written in formal documents with a comma decimal separator. The constant pi, for example, starts 3,141 592 653.

This conflict often has an economic impact in the English-speaking world (plus China, India, and Japan) where the decimal point is used. Countries that adopted labeling or import documentation regulations based on ISO or IEC standards could block imports from the U.S. based on decimal points.

A resolution in 2003 by the General Conference on Weights and Measures endorsed the use of the point on the line as a decimal sign. Then NIST, working through ANSI, went to work to get revisions to the formal ISO and IEC documentation standards and procedures eliminating language that forbade the use of the decimal point. Late last year, both ISO and IEC agreed to make such revisions.