Last weekend was the Open Hardware Summit in Philadelphia, and the attendees were nearly entirely people who build Open Source Hardware. The definition of Open Source Hardware has been around for a while, but without a certification process, the Open Hardware movement has lacked the social proof required of such a movement; there is no official process to go through that will certify hardware as open hardware, and there technically isn’t a logo you can slap on a silkscreen layer that says your project is open hardware.
Now, the time has come for an Open Hardware Certification. At OHSummit this weekend, the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) announced the creation of a certification process for Open Source Hardware.
Open Hardware is well defined, but as with any kind of license, there are questions about what happens when things that aren’t open hardware are integrated into a project. The largest problem facing any Open Hardware project is the parts outside of the creator’s control. Even [Bunnie]’s Novena, famously the most open source and open hardware laptop in existence, still uses closed-source binary blobs for the GPU. Under the new Open Hardware Certification, this wouldn’t be punished; there are no open-source GPUs, and [Bunnie] would not be shunned for incorporating this closed-source software into the product.
Every certification process must come with penalties for, ‘bad actors’ using the logo and certification without being registered, or not being Open Hardware at all. Speaking to the OHSummit, the president of the OSHWA [Michael Weinberg] said, “There are bad actors out there, need to make sure we can punish them.” This does not mean everyone misusing the OSH certification is a bad actor; “There are people out there that make good faith attempts, and there is a need to make sure people are compliant with OSHWA”. To solve this problem, the OSHWA will be using a tiered enforcement strategy. The first few times a project violates the Open Hardware Certification, only a notification of non-compliance will be issued to the creator. If the creator doesn’t comply with the license, it will be listed as non-compliant on the OSHWA website. If that doesn’t work, fines will kick in, starting at $500 a month, and increasing to $10,000 a month.
This certification process means creators must register their project, but it’s free to enter. In the first proposal for the Open Hardware Certification, there was discussion about distinct levels of certification, like ‘Open Bronze’. ‘Open Silver’ and ‘Open Gold’. This was ultimately not implemented, and there is only one level of the Open Hardware Certification.
While the process for certifying hardware as Open Hardware was laid out this weekend, there’s still a lot of work to do for the OSHWA, including turning the certification into a legal license and figuring out what logo to use.
This is a great step forward for Open Hardware; even today, declaring your project to be Open Hardware is just that – there is no enforcement, and there no one to check if your project actually has all the source files available. Being Open Hardware is a selling point, though, and with an Open Hardware Certification the OSHWA is rightfully protecting the work they have put into organizing a community based around Open Hardware. It’s also a great social proof, ensuring everything you buy with the upcoming Open Hardware Certified logo is something you truly own.