Open Hardware Certification mark: call for ideas

Hi, all – Jeff Warren here, OSHWA board vice president. 

You’ve probably been aware of the ongoing process by OSHWA to develop a certification program, with community input. Now we need to develop a graphic mark — the actual logo which would appear on Open Source Hardware objects, products, packaging, circuit boards, and documentation — by the end of March/early April. In light of that, today we’re making a call for ideas for what this might look like! We’ll keep an eye open here for 2 weeks, and announce next steps shortly afterward.

Note that this is NOT replacing the Open Source Hardware mark folks have been using — it’s a new certification mark, indicating that your project is part of the upcoming OSHWA certification program. Think of it like a “fair trade” or “certified organic” mark — extra assurance that the project really is open source hardware. A mark you can trust, because OSHWA won’t allow its use if you don’t comply with the Open Source Hardware Definition! It should be:

  • easy to distinguish from the existing “open source hardware” mark
  • not like the OSI logo (no gears, keyholes in gears)
  • monochrome-friendly (it’ll have to be printed on circuit boards)
  • simple enough to read at ~¼ inch ~3mm, & ideally even smaller
  • consider space for a unique identifier, useable in a URL (say, up to 5 characters)


Not this mark — a new one! But this illustration posted by Windell Oskay nicely shows how the mark will need to be legible at varying sizes.

Post your ideas in the comments — please embed images so people can easily scan through them.

Please note! OSHWA may incorporate ideas or use complete submitted logos for the OSHWA open hardware certification.  That means that by participating you are agreeing to transfer all rights in the design to OSHWA.  Why do we need the rights?  In order to control the logo and the terms of the certification, we need to control the rights connected to the logo.  We understand that arrangement won’t work for everyone, but it is the only way we can make sure the logo does what it is supposed to do.

Update: So, in response to some comments here and on the OSHWA discuss list, the nature of trademark is that we can’t re-use elements from someone else’s trademark, especially in a similar field. So although I see the draw of basing ours off of CC, for example, that would not make for a good mark, legally speaking. And in general, to avoid confusion, I think it’s best if it’s *quite distinct* from other marks, including the gear logo referenced in the post.

Re: embedding images, sorry, for the time being, please just link to images, and we’ll work something out soon.

29 thoughts on “Open Hardware Certification mark: call for ideas

  1. I hope this is the appropriate place to ask: Will there just be one mark, which implies “full” conformance to… what? Might there be a different mark for honorable projects which are not fully open source (think Raspberry Pi, whose bootloader and chip details are not made public AFAIK) but are up front about it and hew to the OSHW goals within their stated limits? How is conformance to the “best practices” outlined in the book confirmed? Can a mark be revoked? Will there be a list of valid mark holders and their conforming products? At the moment it’s hard to know what “open source” projects actually are… and many are not, some not at all.

    • A lot of this is covered in the specifics of the cert draft 1: http://www.oshwa.org/2015/09/19/open-source-hardware-certification-version-1/

      But the key is — the cert will only be allowed for fully open source works, **but**, you can specify that you are only open sourcing a part of your total work. Example: The certification will require that you specify clearly the extent of the work that you are open sourcing. For example, if you open source the schematic, but not the firmware, you can’t say the whole thing is open hardware. But you can say that it has an open hardware schematic. You just have to be specific and clear.

      We’ve discussed gradations, but I feel that will dilute what the certification means. So we’re trying to be as binary as possible here, and just get people to clearly delineate what’s covered by their open hardware licensing/release, and not claim anything (even ambiguously) beyond that.

      Yes, marks can be revoked for not conforming, and there will be a list. See the above-linked discussion, which is probably the best venue for those types of questions, thanks!

  2. I would say that the mark should be binary: something either IS or IS NOT open source compliant. Diluting this to various types of marks for partial compliance would undermine the strength of the concept. One mark only makes for an elite distinction. You can observe that Creative Commons has many marks, some not open source. It is my opinion that this contributes to the mass confusion on the meaning of Open Source. In particular, people now use Open Source to mean ‘something cool’ – not something with a historical definition established by decades of OSI and OSHWA history. A positive outcome of the OSHWA Certified mark would be to provide clarity on the existing confusion, so keeping this to one mark would be important. The only difficulty would be the distinction when proprietary parts are involved. For example, we use proprietary solenoids for automatic control in our open source brick press, but our Design is fully open source. We have no choice on using open source industrial solenoids – they do not exist. But the solenoids are commonly available, thus anyone can replicate the machine. On the other hand, as another example – the proprietary magnetic connector of Little Bits cannot be obtained readily – but the rest of the design is open source. What is the essential difference between the OSE brick press and Little Bits in terms of which is open source? The distinction is subtle: we do not control the sourcing of solenoids, but Little Bits does control the sourcing of its proprietary connector. Which of these 2 example are open source? So this distinction would have to be addressed clearly in who gets certified and who doesn’t. The mark would have to be clear in how it’s applied – for clarity as to which parts of a given product are open source vs. closed – and how the mark is used when proprietary components are involved.

    • Right — Michael Weinberg may be able to clarify futher, but in this example, Little Bits would be able to say that their boards are open hardware, but not their connectors. They could not call their products as a whole open hardware, but would have to specify that they *include* open hardware parts. I think we’ll have to figure out how that appears on the products — would a stamp on the board have to say “open hardware board” or “open hardware board; proprietary connectors” perhaps, so that there is not an implication that the mark applies to the entire object?

      • Marcin, this is an excellent point that we tried to work out in the spec and your examples are very helpful.

        The key concept as it exists in the license is the idea of “your contribution.” In order to be able to use the certification mark, your contribution – that is, everything in your control – must be open, documented, and (if necessary) licensed in a way that complies with the definition.

        The example that you give is spot on. When buying third party solenoids, your obligation is to share a description of the solenoids that would allow someone else to find the right ones on the market. However, since you do not control the IP around the solenoids you have no obligation (nor ability) to fully share – in the sense of the definition – them.

        In contrast, Little Bits has full control over its own proprietary connector. Therefore, the connector is part of its contribution to the product. In order to be able to use the logo they must fully open, document, and license their contribution, which would include the connectors.

        The key to all of this is to give everyone a clear understanding of what the certification mark means without having to read a bunch of caveats. If you are marketing something as being certified open, you can’t be the one preventing part of it from being open.

    • Put a piece of paper in with the board? You don’t HAVE to use the mark, even if you’re in good standing. If your board is too small to fit a mark then that will just be one of several pros/cons anyway.

      • It is largely up to you. You can use the mark to identify the board as open certified (assuming it is open certified….). That can mean a silkscreen on the board, an insert in packaging, a marking on the box, and/or the logo on the product page. As long as it doesn’t confuse people into thinking that other products are open when they aren’t (for example, using the open source hardware logo on the home page of a store that has both open and non-open parts for sale, thereby suggesting that everything is open) it should be ok.

  3. Hi, TZ – that’s part of the design challenge here. Ideally, a mark would be so recognizable that it could be reproduced in the kind of tiny size we sometimes use for a (c) copyright symbol. But we’ll have to see how well we do in this design phase. I tend to think that if it includes text, the design should be useable without the text so that it’s miniaturizable. Perhaps if it had 2-3 letters of text, like, say, “OHC” for Open Hardware Certification, that could work. But I’m speaking hypothetically here without a concrete design proposal. Good thoughts!

  4. Thanks for all the great ideas, folks. I’m actually going to upload a couple of my own doodles to share. I like the idea of the “seal script” used to make those tiny chinese stamps used with red ink on calligraphy; they’re compact, for one. So I tried for a kind of “microchip” look. However, it’s probably a bit too close to the OSI logo’s “keyhole”. But maybe it could be swapped for a “wrench” cutout instead of a keyhole cutout. Anyhow, just wanted to share.

  5. We have an OSHW page on mouser.com where we have tried to stay true to OSHWA def for OSHW in our listing. WE have icons for each site my team creates, and this is the one we used for the Mouser OSHW page. WE studied for TM infringement prior, but it’s a variation that could use any large letter. I am *not* suggesting we use the exact icon as the new logo ! Just that our graphics artist is out to lunch and I am not sure he’s got time to re-do one with an open lock or a big O instead of the M, as shown. Imagine an open lock or a check mark with the open key hitched to the edge, as shown.

  6. Hi, everyone. Apologies for the late entry! I sent this to Michael a while back, but might as well put it up here, as well.

    The two versions of the logo here are messily hand drawn and need to be cleaned up to read better. They also need a textual lockup. But here are the key ideas: It’s abstractly expressing interconnection (interoperability) as well as derivation/patterning (transparency of source), while fitting very rationally into a subdivided hexagon. The linkages are more or less visible from different angles — you can turn the image 60 degrees counterclockwise to see them as stacked sheets/links. In all cases, any geometry you try to impose on it doesn’t quite resolve, Necker-esque. You can’t quite “think in the box” 🙂

    LMK if there’s a strong reaction to any of this (good or bad) and I may attempt another pass.

  7. Forwarding this as a single tone , one letter Logo, one that entails, community based hardware , each small ‘dot’ representats participation , joining hands with each other, to create hardware solutions. this is a rough sketch, which can be developed over graphics once there is some consent.

  8. One proposal. The idea of arrows was to invite to large diffusion, and the small C to underline the certification, thicker than the copyright letter to be distinctive.
    I try to avoid the look ‘Hospital’ with the internal ‘grooves’.
    The internal H is sufficiently thick to be viewed as a rotated beam.

    Aside that proposal, I like the OSHANDA logo, which is very neat and distinctive.
    An open box for open hardware, no reference to language.

    Done in LO draw, if there is any interest.

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