Last few years we do a lot of OSHW and in my talk at OpenFest I explained my motives why we do it.
I see many people are encouraged to do OSHW, but hesitate what licensee to use.
I know how hard for me was this stuff as well at the beginning so I want to share my experience.
There are tons of licensees for OSHW now, many of them quite confusing if you have no law background.
For instance I did my best to understand what is the difference between Cern OSHW and MIT license but failed and most important I wanted to do something interesting instead to lose time reading this boring stuff!
In other hand everybody hesitates – these licenses may be important, what if I open my design?
Will I do any return of the money I put in it at all or thousands of Chinese better equipped factories will start producing my product leaving me with bunch of components in stock?
Do not worry my friends, to make something requires money and unless these volumes hit thousands you will be far away from these factories radar. Opening your design will just add more value to your project in the eyes of your customers as they will have better documented product which they can improve, modify and learn from.
If your design hit thousands sales you are not protected from being copied anyway – just look what happend with Cubieboard they got popular and one of their distributor Iteduino released similar design no matter Cubieboard is closed hardware.
So bottom line is: they will copy you no matter if you are open or closed hardware, probably Iteduino team hired same engineers who Tom Cubie hired for Cubieboard design.
So back on the topic of the licensees, under what licensee to release your OSHW?
My experience with OLinuXino is that no matter under what licensee you open your design, everybody will abuse it shamelessly, so you should not care too much.
Do not get me wrong, our OLinuXino sale are great, and these are one of our most popular products, but there are hundreds of derivative designs based on OLinuXino now made by commercial companies which neither give credits to Olimex (as our licensee require) neither contribute back, not even mention that their design is based on ours.
How do I know this? I know, because some of them are bold enough to send us derivative work made from OLinuXino for quote on manufacturing … :)
Some even do not do any changes than to replace silkscreen with their company name instead Olimex.
And there are some which ask US to replace our name on the OLinuXino boards with theirs :) and promise to order XXX pcs if we do so.
So the bottom line is – if you want to give away just do it and do not search anything in return.
Open Source is state of mind, no matter what you write as licensee terms they will be abused and if you want to spend your money to lawers good luck, but what is the point to spend some money to force someone who replaced your name on the silkscreen to bring it back ?
Few days ago I spotted WTFPL licensee http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WTFPL and I love it!
I think this is the most appropiate licensee for OLinuXino and we will release A10-OLinuXino-LIME under “Do What the Fuck You Want to Public License” and all application software around it (obviously Linux will be under GPL ;) )
Now example of bad choosen OSHW licensee: Today I read great news that imx6 SOM module is released as OSHW (http://www.cnx-software.com/2013/11/19/imx6-rex-open-source-hardware-som-designed-to-teach-schematic-and-pcb-layout-design/).
I said to myself – great job, finally there is something non trivial released as OSHW, but the initial euphoria was waived by the ridiculous licensee they have choosen: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
WTF? No commercial use? No derivative work? Why? Guys are you serious? Based on our 18 months OLinuXino experience I can bet with you that everybody will abuse your terms and you will not be able to do anything to change it, so why did you choose this ridiculous licensee? It just make you look ridiculous and half confident in Open Source spirit and ideas?
Open source is state of mind – either do it either not! But please don’t do it in such shitty halfway matter. This just shade your great intention to share you knowledge with the others.
Better close the sources of the SOM rather to release it under these ridiculous terms which everybody will abuse.
Second fail – CAD files are made with Altium – how many contributors who will spend EUR 6000 for CAD product do you expect?
It’s really most weird OSHW project I’ve seen.