Long-acting bronchodilators in combination with inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are recommended to decrease the risk of recurrent exacerbations in patients with Global initiative for chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) stage 3-4 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There is increasing concern about the clinical benefit and long-term safety of ICS use in COPD patients. The WISDOM (Withdrawal of Inhaled Steroids During Optimised bronchodilator Management) study (NCT00975195) aims to evaluate the need for ICS use via stepwise withdrawal of ICS in COPD patients (GOLD 3-4 with a history of at least one exacerbation during the 12-month period prior to screening) receiving dual bronchodilation. During the 6-week run-in period, 2456 patients receive tiotropium 18 μg once daily, salmeterol 50 μg twice daily and fluticasone 500 μg twice daily. In a randomized, double-blind, parallel-group, active-controlled fashion, one group of patients continues to receive tiotropium, salmeterol and fluticasone, while the second group initiates stepwise withdrawal of fluticasone. The primary end point is time to first moderate or severe exacerbation following randomized treatment over 52 weeks. Lung function, symptoms and safety are also assessed. A sub-study aims to identify sub-populations and markers of steroid need. This study will determine the benefit of continued ICS therapy in combination with dual long-acting bronchodilators in COPD.