Arduino Vs. Arduino: The Reseller’s Conundrum

Over the last few months, the internal struggles between the various founders of Arduino have come to a head. This began last November when Arduino SRL (the Italian version of an LLC) sued Arduino LLC for trademark infringement in Massachusetts District court. To assuage the hearts and minds of the maker community, Arduino SRL said they were the real Arduino by virtue of being the first ones to manufacture Arduino boards. A fork of the Arduino IDE by Arduino SRL – simply an update to the version number – was a ploy to further cement their position as the true developers of Arduino.

This is a mess, but not just for two organizations fighting over a trademark. If you’re selling Arduinos in your web store, which Arduino do you side with?

[Nate] from Sparkfun is answering that question with a non-answer.

Currently, Arduino SRL is the only source of Arduino Unos. Sparkfun will continue to buy Unos from SRL, but they’re not necessarily siding with Arduino SRL; people demand blue Arduinos with Italy silkscreened on the board, and Sparkfun is more than happy to supply these.

There are, however, questions about the future of Arduino hardware. The Arduino software stack will surely be around in a year, but anyone that will be purchasing thousands of little blue boards over the next year is understandably nervous.

redboardThis isn’t the first time Sparkfun has faced a challenge in Arduino supply. In 2012, when the Arduino Uno R3 was released, all the documentation for their very popular Inventor’s Kit was obsoleted overnight. In response to these supply chain problems, Sparkfun created the RedBoard.

Sparkfun has always offered to pay royalties on the RedBoard to Arduino LLC, just as they do with the Arduino Pro and Pro Mini. Effectively, Sparkfun is on the fence, with offers to manufacture the Arduino Zero, Uno, Mega, and Due coming from the LLC.

The reason for this is consumers. If someone wants an Arduino SRL-manufactured board, they’ll buy it. If, however, a customer wants to support Arduino LLC, that option is on the table as well.

It’s not a pretty position to be in, but it does show how someone can support one Arduino over another. In a year or two, there will only be one Arduino, but until then, if you have a preference, at least Sparkfun is giving you a choice.

Credit to Sparkfun for the great Spy vs. Spy image. Why don’t you sell googly eyes?

64 thoughts on “Arduino Vs. Arduino: The Reseller’s Conundrum

        1. That’s what I do now when I can, at my Day Job. The scientists around me are comfortable with the Arduino environment and tool set. I can build a 4 channel pressure and flow controller, write the basic code outline, and hand it over for them to take over the software part of things. I was never very impressed with the actual Arduino hardware (both the design and implementation…) but once I saw my co-workers playing with Arduinos on their own, I realized that this could be a good way to minimize my software support on devices I build for them.

      1. The benefit of using Arduino for commercial purposes is not that you can stick the finished board in the product;that would be silly. Rather, the open source nature of it allows you do take the schematic, tweak it to suit your needs, and then utilize all the open-source libraries that available for it to read sensors or SD cards, drive displays, motors, or servos, or interface with any number of other things.

        Say you wanted to design a product that senses the moisture and PH of soil, and transmits the data via bluetooth to your cellphone. With Arduino, most of the work is already done for you. Or let’s say you wanted to make a robot butler that can balance on two wheels by interfacing with an accelerometer, and can avoid people with a distance sensor. Again, much of the work is already done for you.

        It’s like a game developer choosing to license a 3D engine like Unity versus spending months writing their own inferior engine, modeling tools, scripting language. and physics code.

        1. If the chips *were* cheap enough, one could develop and integrate at the same time. Just leave the extra, unused functionality in. But there doesn’t seem to be too much of a push for an integration friendly, low cost, easy to connect Arduino for commercial use and embedded applications. Somebody will hopefully fill this market need eventually.

      2. I have an open-source product where I sell PCBs and give away the design+software. It is based on Arduino because the platform has the greatest market penetration, greatest brand recognition and an easy learning curve for someone who is not at all into electronics/micros to pick a board up and program it.

        It’d be nice to move to a more-powerful micro but if I did that, probably no one would bother with building the product any more because it would become “too hard” for a newbie. I’d no longer be able to sell PCBs and would need to manufacture a complete product, which would definitely not be commercially viable.

        In other words, “commercially viable” doesn’t need to mean “affordable to install Arduinos in products”, it can mean “hitch your wagon to the Arduino behemoth if you want sell anything at all”.

        1. If you’re selling a product you could offer pre-programmed micros with the PCB. The people that are likely to tweak your design would probably be able to find a way to program a different micro if they wanted to, the others would just use it as is.

        2. What about the chipKit UNO32? Pair it with the MPIDE (derived from the Arduino IDE, for what it’s worth) and you have the same capability as before, but with a more powerful processor. Or the Leaf Labs Maple (STM32 microcontroller) with MapleIDE (again, derived from the Arduino IDE).

    1. Realize that the one that first started this was ‘Arduino’ SRL, and not Arduino LLC, so by supporting and buying the Sparkfun-built boards, you’re supporting the parent company that started this whole community.

      1. Sparkfun should advertise boards as “RedBoard – 100% Arduino Uno compatible, but even better”, and pay royalties to LLC because they made the whole community possible. Guys from SRL can’t do anything about it, it’s not their board, it’s not Arduino. :)

    2. Better yet don’t buy any board at all!

      Seriously, an Atmega328 is $3.28 today at Mouser. It runs off of any 5-volt supply, it fits in a breadboard. You don’t even need a crystal if you are ok with running at 8 Mhz rather than 16. Otherwise a crystal and two capacitors bring the total up to $4.32.

      If you already have at least one Arduino you can use that to put the bootloader on your new raw chip.

      It isn’t hard but after a while you will get sick of doing that. I bought a cheap AVRISP off of Ebay. I see some there now for a whopping $3.79. Don’t break the bank now!

      I suggest doing what I did which is to get a piece of verroboard, pin-headers and various sizes of Ziff sockets. I wired it all up so that I have a board with both the large and small size ISP headers and sockets for most ATMEGA and ATTINY chips. Now when I want an “Arduino” I just throw the 328 into the correct ziff socket, plug the AVRISP into the pin headers and 10 seconds later the bootloader is on it!

      The box that a Chromecast comes in makes a nice case to hold the AVRISP and the socket board.

      Finally.. you will need a way to upload the sketches. Just buy a USB to TTL adapter for that. Unless you are building a project which is intended to be permanently attached to a computer this is another 1 time only purchase. Just watch out.. there are a lot of them out there which don’t have the propper line brought out to the headers to manage the reset. If you get one of these you will have to add a reset switch and press that every time you want to upload a sketch. Annoying. Just get a good one.

      However.. if you are building something which needs to be able to talk to a computer… once the final sketch is uploaded you can probably switch to one of those cheap adapters without the reset line! Do they even cost a whole dollar?

      You might notice… I left out the price of the regulator. Come on… the chip can run off of a range of voltages including 3.3 and 5. Doesn’t your project already have a soure of regulated DC somewhere? If not… so you also have to buy a 3 terminal regulator and 2 more caps. Big deal!

      Best of all.. do it this way and everything fits on a breadboard! Even without the weird pin spacing a “real” Arduino on a breadboard would suck because the overly-big PCB would cover most of pin holes! This way leaves you room to spare for the rest of your project.

      Will you miss those easy to stack shields? Maybe… but all those same accessories are usually available raw or on a simple breadboard-compatible breakout board for FAR FAR less money than a shield.

      Am I just being cheap? I don’t think so. The money saved is nice. But better is that it means I can buy more! Do you have a drawer full of Unos? I have a drawer full of 328s and crystals. I can stock up on “Arduinos” whenever I want and permanently build them into projects without thinking about the cost! Most accessories.. instead of buying one shield to play with I can also buy as many as I want to use and permanently include them in projects. That’s not just worth the money saved, it’s priceless!

      1. Or you can buy a bunch of Arduino nanos for under $3 on ebay and treat them as one big chip. You plug them into your breadboard to do development and when you’re done you wire or plug them into your final design.

      2. This is hilarious. You’ve explained how you totally don’t need an arduino for development, while describing all the different pieces you would need to buy individually and wire together yourself in order to get the same basic functionality as an arduino.

        With your system you get a mess of wires and components on a breadboard and a daisy chain of cables instead of a nice clean development board, while spending maybe 15 dollars and a whole bunch of time putting it together instead of $30 for a real Uno (or like $10 for a clone) and ten seconds plugging in the board. There are two valid reasons to go your way: (1) you are already an experienced developer and you’re planning out a custom PCB, or (2) you are tremendously cheap and also value your time at nothing..

        I have a drawer full of ATMegas and ATTinys and all the hardware to program them discretely. I still rarely use them for my own embedded projects because I can get a Chinese Nano clone for $2.50, and that includes a USB port, a crystal, a regulator, and headers.

        The Arduino intended as a development board for easy prototyping and a learning tool for beginners. If you’re in either of those two situations and you’re making the process more difficult in order to save the price of lunch at McDonald’s, you’re doing it wrong.

  1. It sounds like the only way for any retailers to be safe is not to go near any arduino baord with a 10 foot pole, which means a political death for arduino.
    When is arduino going to get replaced by something inferior that wins by sheer stupid popularity?

    … probably be available for $2.50 from china for years and years, the IDE wont die from non-maintenance untill the gui libraries are obsolete, which takes about 2 years.

      1. Really? You were waiting for Java to become obsolete in April 1995? That’s pretty amazing foresight on your part, since Java was only in alpha then, and had only just recently been renamed from “Oak” due to trademark issues.

        Java 1.0 was released in January 1996.

    1. Arduino is that “inferior win-by-sheer-stupid-popularity” microcontroller platform. I was using PIC microcontrollers in an industrial environment about 20 years ago – they are far and away more robust, cheaper and available in a massive variety of flavours. But Arduino became popular and is now the “default” platform for microcontroller prototyping, despite the AVR chips on them being much less robust, and much easier to damage. The massive advantage Arduino has over its rivals is the community and the open libraries. That doesn’t make it a “superior” platform – just a more popular one.

      1. PIC uses a proprietary development environment and proprietary libraries. They sell the chips but insist on making money from the development tools. That locks out a lot of people from using what I think are well engineered chips. (Their crappy documentation doesn’t help.)

        1. Exactly. I use them both, I love PICs more, but Microchip’s pricing of their compilers says “screw you non-professionals, we don’t want you”. This whole Arduino story would be a good argument for them to release a free version of MPLab, at least for non-commercial or limited-commercial use. Hope they will realize that.

          1. The datasheets are good and accurate and are what makes them usable. But I was referring the the obvious cut and paste books that many times talk about things that don’t exist on the chip that you are reading the book to learn about. I wish I had a recent example to point to but I quit using those books a while ago.

  2. If you look at things like the Arduino IDE for ESP8266, you’ll realize that it’ll last for many years to come, and will be continuously maintained and ported to new (non-Arduino) hardware.

  3. Hi, this is Jon from Pimoroni – we’re a UK based reseller for Adafruit, SparkFun, Arduino, et al.

    After hearing about the Arduino vs Arduino situation (largely through your great coverage, thanks!) I e-mailed Gianluca at Arduino Srl (formerly Smart Projects Srl) to inform him that we were serving notice on our distribution agreement with them.

    We absolutely will not support a company that:
    isn’t paying back the license fees they owe
    is creating confusion in the community with needless forks of the software
    willingly causes harm to the years of great work done by Arduino, resellers, and the community
    We’ll continue to support Arduino-compatible boards (that contribute back to the project via licensing or other means) such as the SparkFun Red Board, Adafruit GEMMA/FLORA/Trinket, and Teensy.

    We’re really sad it came to this and hope that the trademark dispute is resolved and we can all get back to doing good (in both senses of the word) business.

    – Jon

    1. Good on you!!

      Seeing as I live in the US, I don’t see myself becoming a customer of yours but please know that your initiative to do what I feel is the right thing is refreshing and has my sincere appreciation.

      Really- Thank you.

    2. Hey Jon,

      I own a small store in Finland and did exactly the same. I had no interest in supporting them, and they made zero effort to provide me any reason to do so.

      I felt it would be deceiving on my part to keep on selling Arduinos like nothing has happened, since 90% of my customers will have never heard about this issue and they just want to buy an Arduino. Imagine their confusion and disappointment when they get the board and the software is going to say that it’s not an officially supported board (because of the change in the USB VID).


      1. So could you start Arduino LTD then to make a board with a slot to put the teensy on but which allows you to use the standard shields? Then macona can start Arduino AG that makes the same thing but with a slot for the teensy 180 degrees rotated and then you can sue each other. :)

    1. Dimitri & Harold have launched at least 3 campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, each time taking in 6 figures and setting high hopes & expectations. All 3 have delivered underwhelming results. They’re very good at getting people to believe in grand schemes… apparently even after so much failure and disappointment, this one still seems like a good “ongoing” project.

  4. I dont use arduino much any more … but the idea of frying a chip and just wacking in a new one for a buck in under a minute is appealing for me plus just picking it up for very rapid prototyping … if it runs on my arduino it will run on anything!
    Not to mention its a great jumping off point for any young developer and for this i hope arduino is to stay
    i side with LLC, they are composed of most of the founders and SRL is just a rogue manufacturer (imagine if your manufacturer stole your product, changed their name to yours and claimed to be you)

    1. It’s a good board, I agree, but they charge approximately 10x what their competitors do. $40 for a Uno clone? $30 for a freaking RTC?! Gimme a break! Their deal with Jaycar makes them one of the more convenient options on the market but I refuse to touch them unless my boss is the one paying for it.

  5. Interesting attempt to portray a typical political fence sitting as ‘serving their customers’. The reality is that this comes across as a company who is hedging their bets so as to maintain a relationship with whichever company comes out on top.

    If they choose to support the remaining four of the five, they could simple stop selling the Italian boards and charge the same amount for their red board and send a royalty to the original four. Or they could continue to sell the Uno and stop supporting the four.

    Or they could decide to tell both parties that they will cease to deal with them until they settle their conflict.

    Either way they can continue to sell Arduinos to their customers. Just like the chinese are doing..

    1. So what is an Arduino knockoff anyway? To me that implies someone is actually doing something wrong. They are copying something that wasn’t given to them to do so.

      How can there be a knockoff of something that was released as open source?
      The Linux OS on my computer isn’t a knockoff just because Linus himself didn’t build the kernel and ship it to me on a CD in a box!

      Now.. what SRL is doing… that is wrong. They are trying to steal a trademark. The same can be said about people who sell chips that are programmed to pretend to be proprietary RealTek devices even though they are not. But.. how do you steal something that has already been given away to everyone for free?

      I do understand apreciating Arduino and wanting to support it. All those free community libraries for so many peripherals.. that is an amazing thing. But.. there are plenty of open source projects out there that don’t even have a physical product to sell.

      If I am to take the opinions I see in comments here at HaD it is somehow wrong to buy a compatible non-Arduino and yet it was also wrong for Makerbot take all that community input and then go closed source as soon as someone started selling machines based on their freely published plans.

      You can’t have it both ways!

      1. There isn’t anything wrong with clones as long as they aren’t using the Arduino name. Most of the Chinese manufacturers toe the line and call their boards UNO or Nano but don’t actually say “Arduino” on the product anywhere, and Arduino LLC at least publicly has stated that they have no problem with that, but they obviously can’t guarantee compatibility or reliability.

        What the LLC dislikes specifically is “counterfeit” Arduinos, which use the actual name and have the little graphic of Italy on the silkscreen and all that, because those ones might reflect poorly on the company if they were defective.

        Anyone can make an Arduino-compatible board and sell it for any price they want as long as they aren’t using the Arduino name without certification and paying the royalties…which is exactly what the SRL is doing, ironically.

    2. Arduino clone sales seem to fit three broad categories:

      1: You think you’re buying a genuine Arduino and some of your money is going to support Arduino and fund continued development of the platform.

      2: You know you’re buying a clone to save a buck. You wish you could afford to support Arduino, and maybe you consider donating when you download the software. You genuinely appreciate that people put a lot of work into developing the software and platform and community.

      3: You’re buying a clone because you’re cheap, and you don’t understand why anyone would pay full price. Maybe you’re even indigent or outraged they sell the official boards for so much. Perhaps you even post disparaging remarks online about Arduino, mostly complaining about “rip off” pricing.

  6. I’m for LLC!

    IMO srl is a slimeball…

    Too many other options these days, all cheaper and more versatile.

    Teensy (!!!) and some of the adafruit options come to mind.

    Personally, I rather resent srl for the pissing match and the negative aspects it puts on the whole community.

    Just say NO to srl :-).

  7. I teach design students how to build electronic prototypes of their concepts, and have a bunch of SparkFun inventor’s kits to serve that purpose…the students all still call them “Arduinos”. I think as far as the young generation is concerned, if they know the word Arduino, it’s almost a generic term for “microcontroller board.” I think this is actually a good thing for the LLC, because it enables them to be associated with any number of small blue boards regardless of what’s actually on the silkscreen.

    1. It’s actually worse for both party’s cases, because once the term is generic and applied to all similar products one cannot trademark it. That is one of the reasons why companies make such a big deal about differentiating their products.

  8. ARM based based Arduino boards (Due and Zero) go for at least $50 which is ridiculously expensive. The Teensy 3/LC and TI Lauchpads + Energia are Arduino compatible and cost about a fifth to two-fifths of that.

    As far as the Yun is concerned, The odroid-C1 and RPI2 are far more capable platforms that again cost about half of the Yun.

    Even the official AVR based arduino boards are expensive at prices that range from $25 and up. The only reason that they’re (UNO/Nano/Micro e.t.c) still popular is because people buy Chinese clones of these boards which can be had for anywhere between $2-$7.

    Don’t get me wrong I love what Arduino is and what it is doing. I try to donate a small amount to annually. But perhaps the arduino organization should look for alternative ways of supporting their business other than selling ‘official’ hardware.

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