Open source hardware – (OSHW) Draft Definition version 0.3 and summit

Pt 10220

Today is a big day for anyone who designs (or builds) open source hardware. For about 5+ years or so the term “open source hardware” has been used more and more to generally describe projects in which the creators have decided to completely publish all the source, schematics, firmware, software, bill of materials, parts list, drawings and “board” files to recreate the hardware – they also allow any use, including commercial. Similar to open source software like Linux, but this hardware centric.

There were, will be, and are – many ways to define open source hardware but some of the leading makers and thinkers on the subject got together and I’m really thrilled to help announce that there is a draft of the Open source hardware (OSHW) definition version 0.3 and a summit this year, right before Maker Faire NYC.

Ayah Bdeir (Eyebeam fellow & coordinator of these efforts) has this to say about the first round of the definition and the summit. She writes…

I started getting interested in Open Hardware as a vehicle for innovation and social change while at the CCG group at the MIT Media Lab, and got fully immersed in it while a senior fellow at Eyebeam Art and Technology Center in New York. Now, I am a (crazy!) strong believer in the power of Open Hardware. When I started littleBits, I jumped into the many challenges of porting the Open Source movement to hardware.

As I worked closely on legal strategy with incredible advisor, John Wilbanks, VP of Science at Creative Commons, we decided to create a venue for the community to interface with CC, and embark on a mission to help catalyse an Open Hardware license. The workshop, entitled “Opening Hardware: A workshop on Legal tools for open source hardware” took place at Eyebeam on March 17th and featured OH pioneers such as Arduino, Adafruit, Buglabs, MakerBot, Chumby as well as Jonathan Kuniholm (Open Prosthetics), Chris Anderson (Wired), Mako Hill (OLPC, Wikipedia), Jon Philips (Qi), Shigeru Kobayashi (Gainer), Becky Stern (Make) and Thinh Nguyen and John Wilbanks (CC) and us (littleBits, Eyebeam). Since then we, and an incredible group of OH stars (Evil Mad Scientist, Parallax, Sparkfun, Lilypad), have started putting together a definition that today, we are very excited to release in version 0.3 for public comment.

Recently, I have been appointed as Creative Commons fellow – a very important step which shows CC’s commitment to our community. And on September 23rd, Alicia Gibbs (buglabs) and myself are chairing a summit as part of MakerFaire: the Open Hardware Summit. We will be discussing the license, and hope to put version 1.0 out to the world! Please join us, sponsor us, support us, or just follow us!

Ayah Bdeir
July 14th, 2010

So, what’s next? Check out the open source hardware definition, help get us to 1.0 – for the last 4-5 years I’ve written up the hundreds of projects each year – and we’re finally arriving at some consensus from the people who make the hardware what it is and what the challenges are ahead. Open source hardware exists, it’s real – dozens of companies are thriving making millions of dollars creating great products and sharing the “recipe”.

The below is the license v.0.3 pasted from FreedomDefined. For the original, please go to:

Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Draft Definition version 0.3

OSHW Draft Definition 0.3 is based on the Open Source Definition for Open Source Software and draft OSHW definition 0.2, further incorporating ideas from the TAPR Open Hardware License. Videos and Documentation of the Opening Hardware workshop which kicked off the below license are available here.


Open Source Hardware (OSHW) is a term for tangible artifacts — machines, devices, or other physical things — whose design has been released to the public in such a way that anyone can make, modify, distribute, and use those things. This definition is intended to help provide guidelines for the development and evaluation of licenses for Open Source Hardware.

It is important to note that hardware is different from software in that physical resources must always be committed for the creation of physical goods. Accordingly, persons or companies producing items (“products”) under an OSHW license have an obligation not to imply that such products are manufactured, sold, warrantied, or otherwise sanctioned by the original designer and also not to make use of any trademarks owned by the original designer.

The distribution terms of Open Source Hardware must comply with the following criteria:

1. Documentation

The hardware must be released with documentation including design files, and must allow modification and distribution of the design files. Where documentation is not furnished with the physical product, there must be a well-publicized means of obtaining this documentation for no more than a reasonable reproduction cost preferably, downloading via the Internet without charge. The documentation must include design files in the preferred form for which a hardware developer would modify the design. Deliberately obfuscated design files are not allowed. Intermediate forms analogous to compiled computer code — such as printer-ready copper artwork from a CAD program — are not allowed as substitutes.

2. Necessary Software

If the hardware requires software, embedded or otherwise, to operate properly and fulfill its essential functions, then the documentation requirement must also include at least one of the following: The necessary software, released under an OSI-approved open source license, or other sufficient documentation such that it could reasonably be considered straightforward to write open source software that allows the device to operate properly and fulfill its essential functions.

3. Derived Works

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original hardware. The license must allow for the manufacture, sale, distribution, and use of products created from the design files or derivatives of the design files.

4. Free redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the project documentation as a component of an aggregate distribution containing designs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale. The license shall not require any royalty or fee related to the sale of derived works.

5. Attribution

The license may require derived works to provide attribution to the original designer when distributing design files, manufactured products, and/or derivatives thereof. The license may also require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original design.

6. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

7. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the hardware in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the hardware from being used in a business, or from being used in nuclear research.

8. Distribution of License

The rights attached to the hardware must apply to all to whom the product or documentation is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

9. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

The rights attached to the hardware must not depend on the hardware being part of a particular larger product. If the hardware is extracted from that product and used or distributed within the terms of the hardware license, all parties to whom the hardware is redistributed should have the same rights as those that are granted in conjunction with the original distribution.

10. License Must Not Restrict Other Hardware or Software

The license must not place restrictions on other hardware or software that may be distributed or used with the licensed hardware. For example, the license must not insist that all other hardware sold at the same time be open source, nor that only open source software be used in conjunction with the hardware.

11. License Must Be Technology-Neutral

No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.


The signatories of this Open Source Hardware definition recognize that the open source movement represents only one way of sharing information. We encourage and support all forms of openness and collaboration, whether or not they fit this definition.

OSHW Draft Definition 0.3 is endorsed by the following persons and/or organizations. Please feel free to add (your own names) to this section. Listing your affiliation is optional for personal endorsements, and endorsements are presumed to be personal unless the organization name is listed separately.

David A. Mellis, MIT Media Lab and Arduino
Limor Fried, Adafruit Industries
Phillip Torrone, Make and Adafruit Industries
Leah Buechley, MIT Media Lab
Chris Anderson, Wired and DIY Drones
Nathan Seidle, SparkFun Electronics
Alicia Gibb, Bug Labs
Massimo Banzi, Arduino
Tom Igoe, Arduino, ITP/NYU
Zach Smith, MakerBot Industries
Andrew “bunnie” Huang, bunniestudios
Becky Stern, MAKE
Windell Oskay, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories
John Wilbanks, Creative Commons
Jonathan Kuniholm, Open Prosthetics Project/Shared Design Alliance
Ayah Bdeir, Commons

View other versions and the wiki this was pasted from here:

Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here:

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in!

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community!

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers –

Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at !


  1. Cristián Arenas Ulloa

    I really like how things are turning out 🙂


  2. I applaud this movement. One critique: clause 6 regarding discrimination is hopelessly vague. Typically language such as “on the Basis of Race, Sex, Color, National Origin, Disability, Religion, Age, Sexual Orientation” is used. What is intended here?

    I am a lawyer but I am not your lawyer.

  3. “Intermediate forms analogous to compiled computer code — such as printer-ready copper artwork from a CAD program — are not allowed as substitutes.”

    I get the intent here, but what about people that author their PCBs with pen and paper, or sharpies and FR4? Somewhere, there needs to be additional discussion for the huge community that would freely share their work but doesn’t have an engineering education, access to expensive software, or experience battling EAGLE. How does the OSHW work for people who work with their hands?

  4. @daniel – good stuff, does this cover it?

    “The documentation must include design files in the preferred form for which a hardware developer would modify the design. ”

    it could say…

    The documentation must include design -documents- in the preferred form for which a hardware developer would modify the design.

  5. Off the cuff, it seems like yeah, it could. Another approach would be to refer back to the way it was designed, rather than the specific format of the design.

    “For works created by hand, or without software tools, something something something”.

    I know OSHW has something really specific in mind, but it’s important to note that even today a huge number of things, perhaps even a majority, are designed by hand or without a design file. The resulting design is embodied in a piece of hardware — and can be shared as such.

    What I’m concerned about is the situation in which I’ve created something in such a manner, but the OSHW makes it a pain in the ass to share (requiring original design files — meaning I need to sit down and draft everything up, accurately and completely). I understand that the requirement comes in part from a judiciously paranoid position (because so many companies exploit Open Source but don’t share back) but there must be a way to share without overly burdening the creator, or making an obviously sensible license impossible to adopt.

  6. I have been waiting for this. I’d consider the effort mature when I could build my own video card and have it work under linux. Ambitious, yes, but I’d love to see it some day.

    Does the scope of these efforts include such ideas?

  7. @daniel, we really don’t spend much time on any of this, we ship stuff and make stuff – we release our works the same way the arduino team does and many others (attribution, share-alike, commercial use allowed) and that’s pretty much it. this definition is very helpful, for us – we can point people to it as opposed to explaining what OSHW is or isn’t.

    we’ve never met anyone that wanted to do something but didn’t because of fear of licensing or accurate documentation. make stuff, post the files the best you can, it’s usually pretty clear when something is OSHW and now more so. check our downloads section for our projects and kits this seems to be acceptable to most.

    and with that being said, we do get cloned all the time, it’s part of making anything – patents, copyrights and trademarks don’t stop cloning either, but with OSHW at least, we think, the maker has more opportunities to build a community and resource around their works.

  8. @johnny, yes – of course! very complicated project but not impossible.

  9. like it.
    it’s happening.
    just a couple of comments.
    your criterion 11 stomps all over the last sentence in your criterion 1.
    can i make a claim based on your criterion 6 that the last sentence in your criterion 1 discriminates against me as develop my robot army in my garage with a sharpie and a staples copy card?

    what fun!

  10. I concur with Dan Reetz’s sentiment. Here’s a concrete example. I’m currently designing and building a binary mechanical computer. The makerspace that I’m a member of uses Solidworks for design, followed by VisualMILL to generate GCode to drive a CNC mill.

    The problem I have with this is section 11: “No provision of the license may be predicated on any individual technology or style of interface.” So I could not publish at minimum the Solidworks files, because they only work with Solidworks, which is “an individual technology”. Worse, it’s a prohibitively expensive technology.

    For that matter, I could not publish at minimum the GCode, because that relies on CNC milling, which is also “an individual technology”.

    The conclusion is that the bare minimum I must publish is the drawing files, which do not rely on any individual technology — you could build the part using a CNC mill, a manual mill, or a rasp and an unrealistically steady hand.

    I have a few problems with section 1.

    First: “The hardware must be released with documentation including design files, and must allow modification and distribution of the design files.” But “must allow modification” has as its subject “the hardware”, which makes no sense. Further, if I don’t distribute the hardware, then the license doesn’t even apply. I would reword this as follows:

    “The design for the hardware must be released with documentation including design files, and said design files must conform to an OSI-approved license which allows modification and distribution.”

    What I’ve done here is decouple the design documents from the hardware, explicitly stated that the design files must be open, and leveraged the work that lawyers have already done for informational artifacts (as you have done by releasing your files under CC BY-SA).

    The other part of section 1 I have a problem with is “The documentation must include design files in the preferred form for which a hardware developer would modify the design.”

    This is a bit of a poser. If I develop circuits, then obviously I would want to release a schematic, since that is the preferred form for circuits. But the schematic itself is not modifiable, because it is an image. I think I understand the spirit of this part, so perhaps I’d reword as follows:

    “The documentation must include design files in the preferred form for describing the hardware.”

    I would also include an appendix to the license showing which forms are preferred for which artifacts. So schematics plus a bill of materials for electronic circuits, artwork for circuit boards, “plan” images and a bill of materials for wooden, metal, plastic, etc items. And so on.

    I hope this helps!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.