MAKE’s interview with Alicia Gibb, President of the Open Source Hardware Association, is well worth a read.
Why does open source hardware need an Open Source Hardware Association?
There are a lot of excellent things done by the community that don’t really have a cohesive web presence to live under. We hope to give the community a bit of structure by organizing information around open source hardware under the Association. The other reason is that currently a lot of our knowledge about open hardware is colloquial, and as you cited in your recent blog post, we have unspoken rules. We hope to create a resource to make all these things more transparent and provide a formal entity that can answer questions about how, why, what, and the best practices of open hardware.
How can the makers out there who design hardware help? How can the supporters and users of open hardware help?
We are not as much asking makers what they can do for us, but rather what we can do for them! The best help and support is an understanding that we’re flying by the seat of our pants, but also want feedback to know how we can best serve this community. Of course, there will also be the aspect of financial support that we hope at have. We’re not sure if this will be purely donation-based or if we should charge for membership to raise funds, but we definitely want involvement from the community for that!
Does doing Open-source hardware mean the maker needs to give up their trademark, copyright or patent? Can they have open source values but still use those protections in any way?
I can only answer from my perspective, and not that of the association. I think it’s important to recognize each different type of protection/right that a patents v. copyrights v. trademarks allow for. In the spirit of sharing as much as possible for OSHW, a core value, I think makers and companies alike would have to give up copyrights and patents, as the OSHW definitions tends to replace those two things. It’s also important to keep in mind their histories and purposes of when and how they were created and whether or not those protections and right still make sense in a marketplace.
Let’s start with patents. Keeping in line with how I answered the other question about patents, OSHW is the equivalent to a patent, so I don’t think it makes sense that a piece of hardware could be both open source and patented. Keeping with the value system for OSHW to allow others to freely innovate on your designs, I think patents make innovation sluggish at best. Patents are for mediocre designs which get locked in a 20 year stalemate of exclusive rights. From what I’ve seen, patents also instill an irrational fear that everyone they talk to is going to steal their secrets. If you’ve got something really cleaver, open source it so that it can keep growing and innovation can happen openly proving that it can stand up to competition.
For hardware, copyright typically referes to the documentation, everything from schematics to how to documents. If you retain the copy rights, the documentation to rebuild the hardware and learn from the hardware will not be open. This does not seem to fit with the value system of open source hardware. The open hardware movement takes a example from open software. Companies like Linux, Firefox, and RedHat are all open source, do not use copyright and yet are still all have trademarks.
Trademarks are more or less a company/branding aspect. A trademark is not innovative to new technology and therefore not shared. It doesn’t help you build the functional piece of hardware, it is more or less just branding and marking. While I’m sure using someone else’s trademark (such as Arduino) can help marketing, the purpose of OSHW is to help you build the hardware, not market it. Since my perspective comes as an ex-elementary school teacher, I see trademark infringement as the equivalent to that kid who would take someone else’s paper, erase the owners name, and claim it as his/her own. Any teacher can see the erased name previously inscribed, will notice the rest of the handwriting doesn’t match, and that the name on the paper usually has different work methods. Similarly the counterfeit products and websites have inconsistencies and they look a little off, the brand is pixilated, hand drawn, or not exactly the right font (making them fairly easy to spot). Don’t be that kid who uses someone else’s name, trademarks serve a good purpose.