Author Archives: michael

Update on the China Summit, Open Hardware Month, and Future Summits

via Open Source Hardware Association

This blog post is an update for the OSHWA community about the 2019 Open Hardware Summit in Shenzhen, October as Open Hardware Month, and how OSHWA will think about Summits going forward.

The tl;dr version of this post is:

  1. OSHWA will not be holding the Open Hardware Summit in 2019
  2. OSHWA will be encouraging locally-organized events and gatherings across the globe as part of Open Hardware Month this October (email us at info@oshwa.org if would like to host one!)
  3. OSHWA will shift the Summit to the spring starting in 2020. The Summit will also be held in the same city for at least 3 years starting in 2020.

There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s get to it.

2019 Open Hardware Summit in Shenzhen

At the end of the 2018 Summit OSHWA announced that it would be holding the 2019 Open Hardware Summit in Shenzhen, China.  Shenzhen has a vibrant local community of open source hardware enthusiasts. Many members of the OSHW community were also very excited for the opportunity to travel to a location that is so central to manufacturing innovation.

Unfortunately, in 2017 China implemented a law governing the activities of non-Chinese NGOs operating in China.  This law created a number of bureaucratic hurdles for organizations like OSHWA that were interested in holding events in China.

Among other things, the law requires OSHWA to find a local Chinese Partner Unit (CPU) willing to act as our sponsor for the Summit.  CPUs can only be certain types of organizations, such as universities or registered Chinese NGOs. Companies cannot serve as CPUs. The CPU must also be willing to undertake a significant number of bureaucratic steps to officially register the event and coordinate with local authorities.  In addition to the process required of the CPU, OSHWA itself would have to undertake a significant and burdensome number of steps to collect, verify, and provide paperwork to Chinese authorities (see this article “Reams of Paperwork: Preparing Documents to Get Official Status in China” and the checklist we prepared here for a sense of what is involved).

OSHWA has spent the last few months trying to identify a suitable CPU.  We have been unsuccessful, and do not have confidence that we will be successful in the future.  Furthermore, even if we were able to find a suitable CPU, OSHWA cannot justify the time and resources required to comply with the various filing requirements associated with the law.

As a result, OSHWA decided that it was better to cancel the 2019 Summit now, before speakers and attendees had made commitments and travel arrangements.

That being said, OSHWA is still committed to supporting the OSHW community.  That is why we are pairing this announcement with two additional announcements.

October as Open Hardware Month

OSHWA has traditionally supported October as Open Hardware Month.  Open Hardware Month is an opportunity for the community to hold local events, hackathons, and  documentation days as part of an international movement.

OSHWA wants to take this opportunity to expand Open Hardware Month events.  We will work to provide resources for the community to create to local events, aggregate information to make it easy to find events in your area (or know that you need to organize one), and collect stories, video, and images of the events as they occur.  These events will not be OSHWA run or carry the formal OSHWA name. We believe that Open Hardware Month will provide us an opportunity to shine a light on open source hardware events happening around the world. It will also provide an opportunity for local communities to raise their hand and be recognized by the global OSHWA community.  Please email info@oshwa.org to learn more and volunteer to be involved.

Spring Summit 2020

Cancelling the Shenzhen Summit and focusing on Open Hardware Month will also allow us to shift the Summit to the spring.  Over the years a number of Summit participants have told us that the spring is generally less crowded with events and obligations, so this shift should make it easier for more community members to attend.

Starting with the 2020 Summit OSHWA also intends to commit to a single US host city for at least three years.

For the past year the OSHWA board has been debating two alternative paths for the Summit.  The first path would continue the pattern of moving the Summit every year. The benefits of this path is that it allows the Summit to come to the many different communities that support OSHW.  The costs of this path are that it makes the Summit more expensive to operate because OSHWA needs to spend time and resources learning a new city every year. Switching cities also makes it hard to capitalize on the enthusiasm of local attendees in order to convert them into full community members.

Conversely, the alternative path is to commit to a single city for multiple years of the Summit.  The benefits of this path is that it allows OSHWA to run the Summit significantly more efficiently and makes it easier for community members to plan.  Holding the Summit in a single city allows OSHWA to grow the number of attendees by turning opportunistic local attendees into more permanent members of the community.   The cost of this path is that it prevents us from moving the Summit to all of the communities that support OSHW.

After significant discussion, OSHWA has decided to adopt the single city approach.  This decision was easier because we paired it with the expanded Open Hardware Month.  We believe that Open Hardware Month will help fill at least part of the gap created by a stationary Summit.

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While none of these decisions are being made lightly, OSHWA believes that combined they allow us to create a rhythm that is more supportive of the vibrant OSHW community.  Open Hardware Month in the fall will shine a spotlight on all of the local OSHW communities around the world. The Summit in the spring will provide those communities a single place to come together and meet in person.

As always, OSHWA exists because of its community and we want to hear from you.  Please let us know what you think in the comments below or in the forums.

OSHWA Supports Design Patent Clarity in Amicus Brief

via Open Source Hardware Association

OSHWA has just filed an amicus brief in a case regarding design patents. OSHWA urged the court to uphold a rule that a design patent covers only what the patent itself says it covers. This rule allows everyone to understand what is and is not protected by a design patent. A clear understanding of the scope of design patent protection is particularly important for open source hardware creators who share their design files for use and modification by others because they need to know when a patent would – and would not – apply to their design.

The Case

The case in U.S. court, called Curver Luxembourg SARL v. Home Expressions, Inc., is actually about furniture patterns. Curver applied for a design patent on a wicker pattern similar to one found in ancient Islamic designs. The pattern looks like this:

Design patents don’t protect abstract designs as represented in all things at all times. (Copyrights do that.) When you apply for a design patent you need to identify the “article of manufacture,” the actual thing that embodies the design. Curver initially failed to identify the thing that embodies the design, but eventually identified a “pattern for a chair.”

Curver’s designation of a “pattern for a chair” is important for what comes next. Another houseware manufacturer, Home Expressions, started selling a basket with a wicker pattern similar to Curver’s. Curver accused Home Expressions of infringing on Curver’s design patent. Curver believes that now that its patent for a “pattern for a chair” has been issued, the patent should be interpreted much more broadly to cover baskets, or any other object embodying the wicker design.

OSHWA’s Amicus Brief

From OSHWA’s standpoint, it does not really matter if the patterns on Curver’s and Home Expressions’ baskets are the same or not. What is important is that Curver’s patent is for the design embodied in chairs and baskets are not chairs (feel free to post your chair-basket venn diagrams in the comments). Curver should not be able to select arbitrarily or strategically the thing that embodies its design in order to get the patent, and then turn around and apply the patent well beyond the scope of that selection in the real world. Our brief asks the court to adopt a rule preventing that kind of behavior.

Regardless of what you think about the design patent system more broadly (and there are many opinions about it in the open source hardware community), the system can work only if patents give notice of what they cover. The “article of manufacture” (in this case, a chair) is essential to providing that notice because it shows how an otherwise abstract design applies to a particular object. It also places a reasonable limit on the scope of a design patent’s protection. Home Expressions should have been able to confidently ignore a chair-based patent in designing their basket.

The trial court agreed, and found for Home Expressions, but Curver has appealed the case. OSHWA has filed an amicus brief urging the appellate court to uphold the trial court. Our brief is in support of the rule that patents should be read to cover what they say they cover – and only what they say they cover.

This is important to the open source hardware community in at least two ways. First, creators cannot avoid infringing on existing patents if they do not have a way to understand what those patents do and do not cover. The patent system works only if people can figure out from patents themselves what those patents cover. This is important for maintaining a healthy environment for open source hardware creators to share design files with others without exposing themselves or other creators to unknown risks.

Second, some open source hardware creators rely on licenses to impose openness obligations on future users of their hardware. Those creators cannot understand when the openness obligations apply to future users or how far those obligations extend if they cannot understand when the design patents included in the license are being used.

Curver actually took the fairly unusual step of opposing our request to file our amicus brief. Fortunately, the court recognized that the open source hardware community could be impacted by the decision in this case and denied Curver’s attempt to keep us out.

OSHWA will continue to keep an eye on this case and provide updates as they develop. We would also like to say a big thank you to Kyle McLorg, George Laiolo, Erik Stallman, and Jennifer Urban at the Samuelson Law, Technology, & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law for representing OSHWA in this case. They drafted the original brief, as well as the argument that convinced the court to accept it over Curver’s objections.

OSHWA Certification 2.0 is Here

via Open Source Hardware Association

Today at the Open Hardware Summit OSHWA launched version 2.0 of the open source hardware certification program. We have a new website, a new directory, and  lots of new resources for learning about open source hardware.  You should really check it out.

We announced our intention to create this new version of the certification back in March.  Since then we have been working in consultation with the board and the community to develop a new version of the site.  Version 2 of the certification site uses specific examples from the community to illustrate best practices and licensing decisions for creators of open source hardware.

Launched in 2016, the original certification program has been a success.  We have certified over 200 pieces of hardware from 27 countries on 5 continents.  The certification logo is making it easier to find open source hardware that meets the community definition of open source hardware and the certification process makes it easier to incorporate best practices into releasing open source hardware.

With that being said, there is always room for improvement.  In addition to the community, with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation we have been working with the Technology Law and Policy Clinic at NYU Law and the design team at Objectively think through the best way to make version 2 work for everyone.

Besides overhauling the look and feel of the site (embedding google docs in wordpress pages helped us get the program up and running quickly, but that approach admittedly comes with some design limitations), OSHWA had three primary goals for the the new website:

Consolidate Information

Since its founding, OSHWA has created a series of fantastic resources such as best practices and FAQs to help the community develop open hardware.  Each of these resources was developed in response to specific concerns, building up on existing resources and expanding explanations.

One side effect of that development history is that resources sometimes contained overlapping information that did not completely align.  It could also be hard to know exactly where to go to find a specific answer.

The new certification site borrows from the previously-developed resources and consolidates them into a unified presentation.  OSHWA has worked hard to create paths that are helpful for new members of the community just getting up to speed and existing members who want to take a deeper dive into something specific.  The new site allows you to skim along the top of information related to open source hardware and then immerse yourself in information when something catches your eye.

Licensing Guidance

There is no getting around the fact that licensing open source hardware is more complicated than licensing open source software. There are multiple elements to consider (hardware, software, documentation, etc.), multiple types of intellectual property at play, and some ambiguity around what is even protectable.

For the first time, OSHWA is providing specific guidance on licensing.  That guidance comes in two forms.

First, OSHWA recommends explicitly and individually licensing hardware, software, and documentation associated with a piece of certified hardware.  This will bring true clarity to future users.  The certification application now requires you to specify a license for each of these elements.

Second, OSHWA recommends specific licenses for each of those elements.  These recommendations are not exclusive, and OSHWA is happy to consider adding additional licenses as they are developed or as the community requests.  The recommended licences were chosen in an attempt to make it easy to pick a license that works for you.  This process is further simplified by providing examples of existing certified hardware that use a given license.  That means that users who are not sure which license to use can simply follow in the path of other hardware creators that they trust.

Searchability

The first version of the certification directory was a google spreadsheet embedded in a web page.  That made it easy to get certified hardware listed online.  It made it hard to actually explore the directory.

The new certification directory fundamentally redesigns the user experience. It is now easy to find hardware, search by features, and drill down into what is really available.  We hope that this makes the directory a much more useful resource for the community.

Next Steps

Version 2 is the newest version of the certification process, but it does not have to be the last.  Play around with it, certify something, and let us know what you think.  If you have ideas for features or information, or licenses you think we missed, please let us know in the forums.

Revoking Certification for ES000001: MOTEDIS XYZ

via Open Source Hardware Association

Today, for the first time in the history in the Open Source Hardware Certification Program, OSHWA is revoking the certification for hardware.  OSHWA is revoking the certification for the MOTEDIS XYZ 3D printer, with the UID ES000001, because the documentation is no longer publicly available.  We have attempted to contact Motedis with a request to re-post the documentation but they have not been responsive.

Since this is the first time OSHWA has revoked a certification, we want to explain what happened, as well as what we will do in order to help prevent this type of situation in the future.

What happened

A few weeks ago, a community member wrote in and noted that the documentation link for the XYZ was no longer live.  After reaching out to the contact person listed in the certification application, we have been unable to obtain a copy of the documentation to post publicly.   Without the documentation, the XYZ is no longer in compliance with the program. Therefore OSWHA revoked the certification.

What it means

Revoking the certification means that going forward the XYZ can no longer be advertised as being certified open source hardware.  It does not mean that Motedis’ failure to provide documentation today makes them retroactively in violation of the certification rules.  The certification requires that the documentation be available at the time of certification. It does not require the certifying party to commit to making a copy of that documentation available in perpetuity.  This is a burden that is unreasonable to expect of a party applying for certification.

What now

When the Certification program was being developed, there was a debate over whether or not OSHWA should try and host a repository of all of the certified hardware.  One advantage of such a centralized repository would have been to allow OSHWA itself to maintain archive copies of documentation.

However, that approach also comes with costs.  Developing and maintaining a feature-complete documentation hosting solution is beyond OSHWA’s core competency.  Many good solutions for developing and maintaining software and documentation already exist online. Requiring certifiers to update and maintain yet another repository of documentation in order to certify was determined to be unnecessarily burdensome.  Instead, the certification directory supports links which point to the place where the developers already host and maintain their documentation.

OSHWA continues to believe that this decentralized approach is correct.  Nonetheless, the first revocation of certification provides us with an opportunity to consider improvements.  OSHWA has started to investigate a process that would allow us to archive a version of all documentation. This archive would not be used at the primary documentation storage location.  Instead, it would only be used in the event that the original documentation was no longer available. That would allow users of hardware to access documentation even after the responsible party stops supporting it as open.

If you have thoughts about this, please let us know in the forums.

OSHWA Certification Logo is Official

via Open Source Hardware Association

We at OSHWA are excited to announce that the OSHWA Certification process has an officially registered trademark. This registration will make it easier for OSHWA to prevent people from using the OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification logo if they have not actually gone through the certification process. We hope this will give the community more confidence when they see the OSHWA certification logo on hardware out in the world.

While there are many good faith ways to describe something as “open source hardware,” OSHWA considers certified projects to have met the gold standard of open source hardware by formally committing to comply with all of the elements of the community definition.

Are Trademarks Compatible with Open Source Hardware?

Trademarks are not in conflict with open source hardware. Trademarks are designed to indicate the origins of goods, not to control their reproduction. Knowing who produced something is especially important with hardware, because who actually manufactured hardware can be just as important to its reliability as who designed it.

Trademarks also do not prevent someone else from building on or using hardware that is protected by the mark. Companies like Lulzbot, Evil Mad Scientist, Adafruit, and Sparkfun all make open source hardware that anyone can copy, improve, or build upon. What people cannot do is pretend that their version of the hardware came from one of those companies by selling their version under the brand name of the original creator. That makes sense, because the original creator is no longer responsible for the new versions.

When creators have invited the world to make use of their open hardware, trademarks are how we know which pieces of hardware still come from the original designer. OSHWA believe that strong brand identities are compatible with a vibrant open source hardware ecosystem.

What OSHWA’s Trademark Means

The OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification process is designed to make it easy for end users to quickly tell if their hardware meets the community definition of Open Source Hardware.  When you see the OSHWA certification logo, you know what “open source hardware” really means.

example mark

The trademark will allow us to control how people use the certification logo out in the world. In concrete terms, it means that someone who fraudulently uses the OSHWA certification logo on hardware that does not meet the community definition is infringing on the OSHWA trademark.  That means that OSHWA could bring a trademark infringement action against that person. This will allow OSHWA to protect the integrity of the certification mark.

What  OSHWA’s Trademark Doesn’t Mean

As we noted in a post at the outset of the certification development process, OSHWA has no interest in controlling, nor ability to control, who gets to use the term “open source hardware.”  Similarly, OSHWA does not have, nor desire, any control over who gets to use the Gear Logo and when they get to use it. Open Source Hardware is a concept that was developed by the community and continues to evolve as the community evolves.

Instead, OSHWA’s trademark will allow OSHWA to control the OSHWA-specific certification process.  If the community definition of open source hardware is important to you, the OSHWA certification logo will be an easy way to know that the hardware you are holding matches that definition.

What is Next?

We are getting excited to launch version 2.0 of the certification process at the Summit this September.  One of the big goals of 2.0 is to make it even easier to understand how licensing works with open source hardware, and make it easy to explore hardware that has already been certified.  If you are at the Summit you will be able to see that launch in person. If you can’t make it, keep an eye on this space for updates.

Also, a huge thank you to the students of the Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic at Stanford University Law School for guiding OSHWA through the registration process.

Thoughts?  Questions? You can always find OSHWA on Twitter, Facebook, and in the forums.

 

OSHWA Certification 2.0

via Open Source Hardware Association

After almost a year and a half of community discussion, OSHWA unveiled the Open Source Hardware Certification Program at the 2016 Open Hardware Summit.  Today, with the help of a major grant from the Sloan Foundation, we are excited to announce that we are taking major steps towards Certification 2.0.

The original certification program has some fairly straightforward goals.  It is designed to make it easy for creators to identify their hardware as compliant with the community definition of open source hardware, as well as make it easy for users to know that hardware that is advertised as “open source” meets  their expectations.  The certification process gives a creator confidence that they have done everything required to call their hardware open source.  The certification logo gives users confidence that they will be able to access, build upon, and hack any hardware that they receive.

We didn’t know what to expect when we launched the certification program and have been blown away by the results.  There are currently 170 certified hardware projects from 18 countries on 5 continents participating in the program.

While we are excited about the certification program, shortly after it launched we started thinking of ways to improve it.  The current interface built on a combination of google forms and wordpress is functional, but not necessarily elegant.  Once the process was live, we also started getting feedback from users on ways to make it better.  One major concern was that the registration process exists in a bit of a vacuum.  It asks the creator to verify that she has complied with all of the requirements but does not provide very much guidance on the best ways to comply or the various choices that can be made and still comply.

For the past year we have been working with the Technology Law and Policy Clinic at the New York University School of Law to create more robust guidance to help creators navigate the licensing, documentation, and other decisions that creators must make when they are working towards certification.  We have also been working with the team at Objectively to turn that guidance into an interactive process that draws on examples from the community.

The grant from the Sloan Foundation allows us to take that work and turn the certification into a much more robust and useful resource.  We are hoping to have the new site ready to launch by the 2018 Summit.  Until then, please let us know if you have thoughts, ideas, or concerns.  We are very excited about the next chapter of the Certification Program and hope you will be too.