Open Sourcing Hardware Design

C|Net posted an article yesterday (Link) discussing efforts to create an open source framework for the sharing of hardware designs. For those of you interested, a draft proposal for what’s called the “TAPR Open Hardware License” is available for review (Link to PDF).

I’ve just read the current draft (version 0.9) and I confess to wondering if author John Ackerman has given sufficient thought to how this thing will be used/abused in the tangible world. I’ve not given this sufficient thought, but it seems to me that software receives significantly more protection than hardware from the simpler and less expensive Copyright system. I could be wrong, but if that’s the case, then basing an open source framework for hardware on a similar system used for software might not be appropriate; assuming that’s what they’re doing here (and based on the main player, Bruce Perens, I am making that assumption).

I don’t know.

What I do know is that Copyright provides protection for everyone, thus leveling the playing field… for everyone. Patents, the real protection for hardware designs, are for those who can afford them. The playing field isn’t level and thus this seems to me to be fundamentally flawed.

In any event, I’ll be watching how this progresses. I’m interested in open source hardware and would contribute {designs}, but I’ve no interest in helping to line the pockets of those who’ll doubtlessly be looking for legal loopholes in this licensing scheme. Besides the fundamental issues regarding immunity and patents, the whole issue of Documentation seems incomplete to me. I mean, who’s going to fab and distribute a simple product (e.g. a different kind of bolt) and “include with each unit a copy of the Documentation in a form consistent with Section 4”? That would seem to eliminate a whole lot of things I see for sale at the local five and dime… and a lot of simple but smart things that would be of use to people in the Third World.

2 thoughts on “Open Sourcing Hardware Design

  1. Hi —

    I’m the author of the Open Hardware License and came across your comment.

    You’ve made good points about copyright/software vs. patent/hardware. The OHL attempts to provide a way to deal with hardware short of requiring people to get patents. It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

    With respect to your “nuts and bolts” comment, the license is really aimed at electronic products that are typically built using printed circuit boards. We tried to make it broader than just that, but it’s really not designed for simple products.

    Please consider contributing to the discussion forum at



  2. Thanks for stopping in and taking the time to comment, John. You’ve confirmed what I suspected. I agree it’s a start (and a good one – I read it a few times looking for loopholes) but I *am* looking for a more generalized approach. Today’s electronic products seem to me to be linked to software and Copyright in a very 2D fashion: the boards themselves. I’m wanting something that covers truly 3D designs (like those amazing expandable truss structures which one now can find in toy stores) of any complexity. Consequently, I’d be very interested in joining the discussion and appreciate the link. See you there.

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