Open source hardware

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To a large extent, the RepRap project is successful because it is open (see RepRap and Open Source). Openness can be seen as an enabler of collaboration among the growing group of volunteers.

Openness is considered to be many things, it generally has positive connotations, but there is no agreed upon definition. Regardless of the exact definition you choose, openness can be influenced by a series of mechanisms such as norms (principle, standards and guidelines). The principles and standards can be legal or non-legal and may be implemented in concrete rules. Things like cultural norms and licenses (a legal tool) can affect behavior and in turn affect the level of openness.

Open source has a more constrained meaning than the subject that is licensed, in principle it could be applied to software, hardware, documentation and other creative works. The typical open source development process is a specific type of development that is frequently found in software development projects. While there is a lot known about open source software and its development, relatively little research is done about open source "hardware" and how it is or could be developed.

Open source beyond software

The term Open Source is neither protected by law, by a trademark nor something similar, so everybody is free to use this term lawfully for whatever purpose she sees fit. One of the most accepted definitions in communities is the one of the Open Source Initiative.[1] Most notably, the definition implies that the license must allow modification and must allow free redistribution of the software under the same license.

Licenses compatible with the Open Source Definition are mostly based on copyright law since this type of intellectual property law is most applicable to software. Yet this definition does not lend itself well to also cover physical product licenses.[2]

In the context of designs of open hardware with it's accompanying software and documentation, it is important to differentiate between implementation and design. Open source licenses are mostly based in copyright law, which is about:

  • creative works
  • only implementation can be copyrighted (this rules out copyrighting a design, idea or working principle)
  • there has to be a record of it (it cannot be just in your head)

Open Source Hardware Association

The Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity created in early 2012 that "aims to be the voice of the open hardware community..." (

See also


  1. The Open Source Definition, Open Source Initiative
  2. Richard Stallman -- On "Free Hardware", Linux Today, June 22, 1999