Open Source Hardware (OSHW) opens new opportunities

David Tarrant & Andrew Back | Electronic Design | October 11, 2013

Open-source hardware (OSHW) concerns hardware design that is publicly available for anyone to study, modify, distribute, make, or sell, or hardware based on that design. The design must be available in the preferred format for making modifications. Also, there must be no discrimination against fields of endeavour.

As a movement OSHW is much younger than free and open-source software (F/OSS), but it has similar origins. It came about via niche applications and tools designed for engineers or programmers or for those with a different take on existing technology...

Like software, licensing is important in OSHW. Many open-source electronics projects will have both hardware and software elements and may provide design artefacts such as schematics, mechanical drawings,bill-of-materials (BOM), printed-circuit board (PCB) layout, hardware description language (HDL) source code, and assembly instructions, along with source code for microcontroller firmware. It is generally advisable to have separate licenses for the hardware and software parts.

A fundamental principle with both F/OSS and OSHW is that the license must not restrict anyone from using the work (including manufactured hardware) in a specific field of endeavour. So, a license cannot restrict a hardware design from being used in a commercial context, for example.