Open Source Hardware Certification Announced

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.

The Open Hardware Novena Laptop. Source

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.

40 thoughts on “Open Source Hardware Certification Announced

  1. Awesome! It would be nice if they would include libraries for common cad softwares (EagleCad, KiCad, GoogleSketchup, etc) to add an OSHW logo to your project uppon registering your project with them.

  2. I have mixed feelings about this. Sure it maybe good to keep people from lying about being open, preventing false advertising, or whatever they are attempting to combat. But then eventually it will be considered suspicious if you say you are open but don’t have the official logo. Now I have to register to get the logo to get street cred, but then I face monetary penalties if I disagree with the organization over something. Eventually the logo will be universally recognized and sought after, it will become difficult to enforce and police the projects, and expensive to legally try to recover penalties from non-compliant projects or projects that use the logo without registering. So then they start charging money. Eventually the open source certificate becomes to expensive for some projects, and they can’t get the street cred because they don’t have the logo.

    Just rambling out some poorly put together counter-thoughts. Thoughts, opinions, comments?

    1. All of my projects (i.e. both hardware and software that was not written under contract for someone else) are open source. I use different licenses for different projects, but in general my software is GPL or LGPL and my hardware is some sort of CC license, although I have no problem with the OSHW license linked to above. Am I going to register here? Probably not. I don’t get any money or other benefits from my designs, and I don’t see the point of registering with a third party organization to allow me to give away my own designs.

      If the open logo is expected, well then people won’t build my projects. Doesn’t matter to me, I build because I want to do so for myself. If people care to look into my work at all it should be immediately obvious that it is open source (and if they are too dense to see that, I probably don’t want to be answering their questions anyway).

      Having a clearly defined license (OSHW) is great; forcing registration and certification is of no interest to me.


    2. also mixed, it is worrying that one of the motivations is “selling point”. The selling point should be that it’s good.

      Sure it is interesting when someone who makes hardware open source, gives you a scanned PDF and some excuse about EDA packages. But at the same time, they are still giving away their work, and they should be allowed to do that without getting beaten up by self appointed net cops, it used to pretty much all source code, then it went closed, then PD arose, and Share And Enjoy like mantras

      People consider Open Source to be a selling point, for some sort of gain so get upset if its used incorrectly ( but there are many many different people/organisations claiming to be the people who’re in charge of it ) Personally it makes me think of HOA’s where people often get tied down to the world of the law/rules versus what it is really about, sharing your work. They get focused on people having pink flamingos or off white ropes for holding trees up. Instead of someone planted a tree.

      Freedom of, is also freedom from. Sure have a committee that decides they now control something they did not create, with trademarks and logo restrictions and rules that suit them, but as a software/hardware dev i think i’d prefer to make my own decisions and not have to listen to people telling me what i should and shouldn’t do with my work.

      Open Source was originally brought up to get away from the hippyish “free software” movement, and make it more fitting for commercial entities to use, which is important for a lot of reasons, however it shouldn’t be considered good/bad just different. The fact that so many of these newer committees and logos spend so much time defining the commercial usage clauses, and how its bad not to do that, and you’re not open if you’re not about commercial usage etc. Usually when i read these licenses the part that is the most clear is how a commercial entity is allowed to do what they like with it. Less so the delivery of it, that is how we end up with PDF’s for schematics etc. So i get why some people want it.

      It’d be less of a mixed feeling, if the focus was on the share and enjoy side and less about the commercial side of things, we can do what we want with your work, but don’t clone , or make cheaper our stuff, that is against the rules and you’ll be shamed.

      Anyone who breaks these rules is unlikely to pay, or could care less if some website listed them as naughty person, they’re already fully aware of what they’re doing and they’ll continue on, they’ll blatantly rip off the logo which will cause endless blog articles and outrage, but they’ll keep doing it.

      I’ve seen the commercial side of Public Domain go on to do other good things, i worked at Team17 for instance. And that some OS projects get great additions from commercial org’s they could never have hoped for.

      It feels a lot like business/organised religion and not just making stuff for fun, seems like a lot of people look for the money in the project, which is pretty unlikely to happen.

      Also mostly rambling out some comments.

      1. I see people slapping the USB logo on obviously knockoff products and that is backed by much $$$. Nobody is going to give a rats ass about abusing this logo if it gives them some kind of “edge” over other products. The threat of fines is just a threat. Nobody is going to pay them and they’re not going to be able to enforce it.

        1. Yeah there is also “CE” which has a much more powerful body behind it than these OSI committees, and yet “China Export” is rife. Probably loads of fake FCC as well.

          This is mainly what i don’t like about it, it has no teeth and it’ll do is release another wave of netcops/netlawyers bashing on people releasing code with what they deem to be an improper license/terminology. Again focused on entirely the wrong thing, since the primary concern seems to be “commercial use”, people are then happy to go out browbeat people into letting corporations use them as they wish.

          Be happy there is so much free stuff going around and that for some reason computer people are pretty much the only ones harassed into making their stuff free for others/commercial use.

    3. I would also agree with those who think it is not very useful. There are multiple licenses that may be legally enforced, such as versions of the GPL for the software (also applicable to the firmware and FPGA code). There are less established licenses for the hardware, different licenses. And not all the developers/manufacturers of the Open Hardware would agree to a single definition, even to a single name.

      Our company is in business for developing and manufacturing only Free Software/Open Hardware products for more than 14 years, but we never made a single “Open Source Hardware” product. Most of what we develop comes with GNU GPLv3, hardware documentation uses CERN OHL. We wound not have anything against “Open Source” name if there was not a conflict between “Open Source” and “Free Software”. And as the GNU GPL is our main workhorse for all the ears our company is in business, and we agree with the ideas and philosophy behind this term, we would rather stay with “Free”, considering “Open” to be just a “precondition to this”.

      Andrey Filippov
      Elphel, Inc

  3. So, basically we can expect the “bad boys” to come up with new open-hardware logo to slap on their products and ignoring the OSHW authority.
    And perhaps the good boys will come up with their new logo too, because they don’t want any certification authorities above them.

  4. Last I checked, OSHWA isn’t the government, and since the USA isn’t a failed state yet, the US government holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. If I’m a bad actor, claim my product is OSHWA compliant, and they want to fine me, do they actually have any way of collecting on the fine, or is “Go pound sand.” an acceptable form of payment?

    1. I assume your usage of the logo without membership / approval violates copyright law.

      In exchange for getting to stamp your product OSHWA compliant, you agree to OSHWA’s license requiring openness. The fine would be (arguably?) cheaper than civil litigation for breaking license.

  5. Yes, certification is exactly what open hardware needs. Right up until you try and come up with a good reason for it:
    a)….. ?
    b)…. ?
    c)…. ?
    d)…. state that open hardware certification is a good idea.
    e)…. profit by charging for open hardware certification.

  6. Do people buying something really care that it has the Holy Logo of Open Source, as long as it does what they want and allows whatever access they need?
    The only way anything could be enforced is for the logo rights holder to sue for misuse, and would (at last in the UK I believe ) have to show they suffered financial loss as a result, which seems tenuous at best. Who would fund any lawsuit?
    Anything that requires a fee to use the logo is doomed to fail – a lot of people wouldn’t bother, or invent their own variant, causing umpteen forks and defeating the whole point.

    1. “OSHWA open source hardware certification will operate on a fee-free, self-certifying basis.”

      It remains as it used to be, really, with the addition of fees.

      “By using OSHWA open source hardware certification logos and seals, a creator is attesting that she is in compliance with all relevant requirements and is agreeing to comply with any penalties imposed by OSHWA for misuse.”

  7. Right now the best certification i want to see as open hardware are links to every page/file that can be used to replicate and understand how it works inside, right on the selling page. It is no point to claim to be open and then ship documentation a week later the purchase on demand, in a docx, zipped with password on a dropbox folder(which happened to me with a chinese seller).

    1. I’m with you on this.
      However, not only on people making it complicated to get the stuff, but also for poorly documented projects. Sometime, i prefer using a better documented and less efficient/performant rather than a more complex, powerfull, efficient project, with little or poor documentation.

      This is something that matters. Of course, you can provide a long PDF with all specifications in it, but if it takes more time to understand it than designing a new one, what is the point?

      But perhaps we need a documentation quality certification ;p

  8. I think a design can stand on its own by its own merit whether it is certified or not. The way I see is that only people that uses plurals to refer to themselves need to be certified. i.e. organization/corporations or someone certifiable.

  9. My company has manufactured open source hardware for five years, and we were one of the companies to support the original OSHW definition. It doesn’t make sense for us to certify our designs with this organization, especially since some elements of our products are provided by third parties and most certainly not open source (the wall warts included in every box, the off-the-shelf plastic cases some of our devices are housed in, the USB bridge chips we use).

    Just not worth it. I’d prefer to hook up with some decent people who create their own competing open source hardware logo and offer it without a fee or potential penalties.

  10. Here’s an interesting post from one person who is skeptical about slapping an open source hardware logo on his layouts.

    Well worth reading.

    But how is this enforcement ever possibly going to work realistically when violations occur? If anybody actually uses the logo in an unauthorized way and then pays their fines to the OSHWA police I’ll eat my hat.

    Not that you should claim “open source hardware” and then not make an effort to follow through on that – I don’t agree with that. If you don’t want to be open source that’s fine – just don’t claim you’re open source. I don’t agree with “fake open” as a marketing statement for every man and his dog’s Kickstarter campaign, however it is understandable that some people may have a working definition of what open source hardware means to them that differs slightly from OSHWA.

    It seems to me that the only way that OSHWA could make this sort of thing legally enforceable in the courts is by having their open source hardware logo protected under copyright or otherwise under enforceable intellectual property law.

  11. My project was held up as an Open Hardware example in the early days of OSHWA. In using the license, I found that Open Source Hardware isn’t protecting anything because it is fundamentally legally flawed.

    Open Source Hardware is fundamentally a copyright-based license. The organization recognizes this on its own website Copyright has no jurisdiction over hardware and provides no protection at all for the creators who use the license, or for the designs.

    Whatever good intentions went into this, all it does is enable OSHWA to punish “bad actors” – or people they don’t like – it still doesn’t provide any fundamental protections or rights to the creator or the design. There’s no guarantee that they will help you if someone acts badly with your design. There are still no legal teeth.

    Don’t think it’s helpful because it solves no fundamental problems with the license. Not participating in this world anymore. I’d rather just release things into the public domain if I want them to be open. At least then, it is clear what people can do with the work.

  12. So. One makes there schematic open, the chips and iterations open, and then they stick a AllWinner ARM chip in there.

    Come on… This is like the B.S. behind the $9 CHIP computer or the fact you can’t get any BCM2835 or BCM2836 unless you are the RI foundation or Odroid or get the compute module.

    If the company is closed and doesn’t sell to distributors that means the design is f’ing closed. Or the tools require $XXXX to register, agree to the NDA and use.

    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. (AKA This really feels like an attempt from a cross purpose group looking to capitalize on the other end of the hardware Linaro space.)

    Nope. Stab them and stab them hard without proper EFF validation and certification the ENTIRE CHAIN is OHSWAS.

    That said it MIGHT cut the cheap stuff we get from Ebay or AliExpress but in the long run this is going to F’ over the hacker community. Unless you get a paid sponsorship to market on HaD.

    1. Broadcom cut off the BCM2835 supply from Odroid. The unsubstantiated rumour going around was that it was pressure from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. If you want a BCM2835 that isn’t locked down such as the old Roku boxes then a Raspberry Pi board is your only option. The new BCM2836 is only on the Raspberry Pi 2. Nobody else uses it at the moment and I doubt it will ever appear on any other embedded dev board apart from the Raspberry Pi 2.

  13. Xobs from the Novena project here. The GPU in Novena has open-source 2D GPU drivers that don’t require any binary blobs. 3D is still in progress, but is good enough to at least run Quake 3 using completely open-source drivers.

  14. I am a great philosophical supporter of open source hardware, but to me this seems like a betrayal at the core of what makes open source great. With this I feel the same level of betas what happened with Bre Pettis and the makerbot. Introducing controls/patents/fines/penalties for not complying is exactly the kind on bull that makes helpful contributing people into heartless corporations only looking out for the bottom line.
    I agree they have a right to protect their copyrighted image however they see fit… but in the end isn’t that exactly what open hardware is about? NOT fighting those battles and saying “Hey we’ve created something great and we want everybody to freely benefit from it, here you go do as you see fit!”

  15. I will be removing the logo from all of my hardware designs. My designs include all hardware source files (I don’t develop the software), but I do not want to be held accountable by some third party, that is opposite to the freedom of speech assumed in the open source movement.
    I will also design my own logo for my hardware. Thanks for making things difficult OSHW.

  16. Hi everyone. Michael from OSHWA here. Thanks so much to hackaday for covering this and to all of the comments for taking it seriously enough to engage with it. I wanted to jump in to clarify what seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding about what we are and are not trying to do.

    First and foremost, as both the proposal and the article note, the certification is both voluntary and free. We received feedback from the community that it would be helpful to have some sort of way to show that a given project’s proclamation of open source hardware-ness complied with a more widely understood definition of open source hardware. After a process that involved an in-depth consultation with the community, we have come up with a certification proposal that we believe provides that certification opportunity.

    That being said, no one is under any obligation to use the certification or care about the certification. If people find it to be a useful signal, then it is more likely that people will incorporate the certification into their projects and take the steps necessary to comply with it. We believe that there is an interest in such a certification, but obviously don’t have a crystal ball.

    Finally, this is not an attempt to force everyone doing open source hardware into a certification regime. This is a new, additional, voluntary certification process for people who want it. If you want to do open source hardware without this certification, OSHWA isn’t going to get in your way. In fact, if you are doing a cool open source hardware project you should think about submitting a talk about it for the next Open Hardware Summit. OSHWA’s role is to try and promote open source hardware, not promote certified open source hardware. If it turns out that the certification isn’t useful to people, then people won’t use it. That’s fine too.

    Thanks again for taking all of this seriously enough to discuss it.

  17. How about an article explaining how OSHW isn’t a legal thing and no matter what license you choose or ‘certification’ you pay for, it’s not going to stop others from LEGALLY knocking-off your design. So many people incorrectly think they need some kind of license to ‘protect’ or get credit for their hardware designs. Now I hear people saying dumb stuff like “well paying the OSHW fee is better than trying to get a patent”. How about clearing the water and explaining how hardware is not protected by anything other than patent and it’s perfectly fine to just put your stuff out there or just start selling it. Legally anyone can 100% copy your product. If you didn’t register your copyright or trademark, then it’s likely they will register your stuff in their name immediately before saying you copied them. Argh this stuff is so dumb.

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