OSHWA 2017-2019 Board Nominations Open!

OSHWA is looking for 3 new faces to join the board of directors for the Open Source Hardware Association. The nominee form is for self-nominations only. Please fill out the nominee form to become a nominee or forward the link to someone you want to nominate. Do not fill out the form for someone else. The purpose of this form is to tell voting members why you want to server on the OSHWA board. We will be publish the nominees and their answers on Oct. 12th. Board members hold a 2-year position. Once board members have been chosen by the community, the board will appoint a President, VP, and Secretary. Board responsibilities include fundraising, advising on goals and direction, and carry out compliance with the organizations purposes and bylaws. See the board member agreement to get a sense of the responsibilities. Board members are expected to adhere to the board attendance policy and come prepared having read the board packet. Board members are expected to spend 5-10 hours of time per month on OSHWA. Nominees can meet current board members who are present at the Summit on Oct. 5th to ask questions or submit questions to info@oshwa.org. Nominations will be open until Oct. 12th.

Nomination Form

Member voting will take place Oct. 14-21. Want to vote in the election? Become a member! Please note that only individuals can vote, corporate members cannot.

 

Open Source Hardware Certification IDs Are Live!

Last month at the Open Hardware Summit we announced the start of the OSHWA open source hardware certification program.  Part of that program involved issuing unique IDs (UIDs) for each piece of registered hardware.  Since we knew that low numbers would be hot properties, we decided to wait until the end of October to assign them.  That allowed us to give every piece of hardware registered in the month of October a chance for the lowest possible number.

Today, thanks to the good people at random.org, we have assigned those UIDs to all pieces of hardware registered before the end of October.  We have also started assigning numbers sequentially for all pieces of hardware registered since November started.  You can see all of the registered hardware  here.

There were 60 different projects registered from 9 different countries.  Want to get your own UID?  Register here!

Announcing the OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification Program

oshwacert

Today the Open Source Hardware Association is excited to announce the OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification program.  The program allows hardware that complies with the community definition of open source hardware to display a certified open source hardware logo.  It will also make it easier for users of open source hardware to track down documentation and more information.  You can check out the program here, and keep on reading for some information about how it will work.

 

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These companies and organizations have agreed to certify at least one piece of hardware by the end of this year.

Background and Purpose

Almost a year and a half ago, OSHWA announced its intention to explore the creation of an Open Source Hardware certification.  At that point, the open source hardware community had created a community definition of open source hardware and the open source hardware open gear logo.  Both of these were significant contributions to the growth in awareness around open source hardware.

By design, no one owns the term “open source hardware” or the open gear logo.  This allowed both the term and the logo to be widely adopted by the community.  However, it also created a challenge.  In many cases, creators would label their hardware as being open source and use the open gear logo without complying with the community definition.  This created confusion in the community where users were unsure what it really meant when something was labeled “open source hardware”.

The certification is designed to complement the existing open gear logo by bringing clarity to how the creator is using the term “open source hardware”.  Unlike the open gear logo, the certification logo is controlled by OSHWA.  In order to use the certification logo, a hardware creator must make a legally binding promise that their hardware complies with the community definition of open source hardware. That means that when users see the certificated open source hardware logo they know the hardware complies with the community definition of open source hardware.

In the summer of 2015, OSHWA asked the community a number of questions about how a certification might work and what kind of value it might bring.  By the 2015 Open Hardware Summit, those discussions had coalesced around version 1 of the Open Source Hardware Certification Specification.  In the year since, OSHWA has worked with the Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic at Stanford University Law School to turn that specification into a fully functional registration system.

The System

Starting today, you can register your hardware for free by certifying that it complies with the community definition of open source hardware.  The registration site – certificate.oshwa.org – has an overview of the process, the text of the license agreement for use of the certification logo, guidelines for how the logo can be used, a history of the certification process, an FAQ related to the certification, a form that allows you to register your hardware, and a directory of registered hardware that includes links to relevant documentation and information.

Upon registration, you will receive the right to use the certification logo and a unique identifier for the registered version of your hardware.

oshwacert

That unique ID has two components.  The first two characters represent a country code.  Open source hardware is a worldwide community, and the country code is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate that fact.  The remaining characters are numbers assigned sequentially based on when the hardware was registered.

The Importance of Your Contribution

One of the critical elements of the certification process is the idea of the creator contribution.  Hardware often involves many third party components outside of the control of the designer.  Therefore, it is unreasonable to require every component of a piece of hardware to be fully open before becoming certified.

The creator contribution rule is an attempt to address this issue. In order to certify a piece of hardware, the creator must fully open any elements of the hardware that is within their control.  If they have the legal ability to license it, it must be licensed openly.  If they created documentation, that documentation must be freely distributed.

If components were created by third parties, the creator does not have the ability to license them or distribute the documentation.  In those cases, the creator merely has to disclose the parts in the bill of materials and certify that they are available without an NDA.  This system allow creators to distribute legitimately open source hardware without creating a (currently) unrealistic burden to find fully open components.

Assistance

OSHWA has designed this process to be as user friendly and straightforward as possible.  However, it does require users of the certification to make a legally binding promise that they will only use the certification logo on hardware that complies with the community definition.  We recognize that this sort of legal promise can raise concerns or cause uncertainty for some community members.  Therefore, we encourage users to write in to certification@oshwa.org with questions.

While OSHWA will work hard to answer as many questions as possible, some questions may require legal advice.  That is why we have partnered with the Cardozo Law School Tech Startup Clinic.  The clinic has agreed to receive referrals from OSHWA for free and low-cost legal advice regarding the certification process.  We hope to add additional clinics and resources to this program in the future.  (If you are a lawyer who would like to be involved with the referral program, please contact us at certification@oshwa.org).

About Those Unique IDs

Ever since we started discussing unique IDs that were sequential, we’ve gotten variations of a single question: “how can I get a low number?”  In order to give as many community members as possible the opportunity to obtain a coveted low unique ID number, we have decided not to start issuing numbers until the end of October.  All hardware registered before the end of October will be combined into a single pool, from which we will issue IDs starting November 1.  That means that all pieces of hardware registered before the end of the month have an equal opportunity at low registration numbers.  Starting November 1, we will start issuing IDs as hardware is registered.

Version 1

This is the first version of the OSHWA Open Source Hardware Certification program.  It was designed with a great deal of community input and is intended to complement existing pillars of the community.  We hope that you take a look, try it out, and find it useful.  At the same time, we know that as the certification program grows we will find things that can be improved and applications that we failed to anticipate.  That’s why we welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comments of this post, in the forums, in the certification@oshwa.org inbox, and online @OSHWassociation.

In order to provide that feedback, you first need to check out the certification. So stop reading this blog post, click on over to certificate.oshwa.org, and register something!

Don’t have anything documented enough to register?  Bring a project to one of the Documentation Days around the world (or host your own) as part of Open Hardware Month so you can make it easier for people to build on your stuff.

Open Source Hardware Certification Launching at the Summit

Come for the great speakers and community, stay to find out about the brand new open source hardware certification program (tickets are still available).

After lots of work by lots of people stretching back . . . lots of time, OSHWA is finally ready to unveil our open source hardware certification program.  The certification will be a way for the open source hardware community to know that when a project or product calls itself “open source hardware” they mean the version of “open source hardware” that complies with the community definition of open source hardware.

At the summit we’ll explain how you can get your stuff certified, how you can use the certification to learn more about stuff you get from other people, and other things that you might want to know about the certification.  There’s no substitute for getting that information in person (trust me), so if you don’t already have tickets click here!

Asking for a Clear Test for Copyright and OSHW

One of the things that makes open source hardware licenses hard is that – unlike software – it isn’t always easy to determine what parts of a product (if any) are covered by copyright. Since traditional open source licenses rely on copyright to make them enforceable, understanding how copyright applies to a piece of open source hardware is the first step in deciding how you might want to license it.

Finding copyright can be complicated because it protects creative and decorative works (including code), but not functional items.  Pieces of open source hardware often combine both creative and functional elements.  This makes it critical to understand how to break out the copyright-protectable parts from the non-copyright-protectable ones.

Unfortunately, today in the United States there are at least ten different and somewhat contradictory tests to guide that process.  That makes it hard for copyright experts to draw the line between copyrightable and non-copyrightable, and essentially impossible for everyone else.

That’s why OSHWA joined the International Costumbers Guild, Shapeways, Formlabs, Printrbot, the Organization for Transformative Works, the American Library Association, The Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College and Research Libraries on a brief written by Public Knowledge in the Supreme Court case Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands.  While the case is nominally about cheerleader uniforms (really), it boils down to a simple question: which test should be used to separate out the copyrightable and non-copyrightable elements of an object that includes both?

The brief does not advocate for a specific test. Instead, it simply urges the Supreme Court to pick a simple, easy to understand test. That clarity alone would be a huge benefit to the entire open source hardware community.

Although we are filing the brief now, the Court’s decision probably won’t be until next year.  Once it comes out, we’ll do our best to explain what it means for the entire open source hardware community.

Update on Certification Mark Logo

A couple weeks ago, we made a call for ideas for a logo to be used in OSHWA’s upcoming Open Hardware Certification program, and we got some great submissions. From these, we’ve selected a handful of especially promising ideas and we’ll be sending a survey to OSHWA members shortly to solicit input on these, narrowing down the ideas towards a final logo.
You can become a member of OSHWA here: https://oshwa.org/membership/
Thanks again to those who submitted ideas, and we’ll have some more news for you soon!

What OSHWA is – and is not – Trying to do with the Open Source Hardware Certification

Last weekend, during the Open Hardware Summit, OSHWA unveiled version 1 of the Open Source Hardware Certification.  This certification was the result of a community discussion process that began back on June 2nd and continues to this day.  Since the announcement there has been a great discussion about the certification, including on Hackaday (including in the comments), in the comments for the original announcement, and on the Evil Mad Scientist blog.  Those discussions have raised some concerns and shed light on some potential misunderstandings, and it seemed reasonable to begin to address both with a blog post.

First, OSHWA appreciates that the community takes this proposal seriously enough to discuss and debate it in the first place.  It is called version 1 for a reason, and we pushed it forward knowing that it would inevitably evolve over time.  That being said, we feel that the current proposal addresses many of the concerns that led to the start of this process in the first place.

What the Certification is Not

The OSHWA certification is not designed to place restrictions on the use of the term “open source hardware” or to restrict how people use the open source hardware open gear logo.  Nothing in the proposal requires anyone to use the certification, or gives OSHWA the power to sanction a project that decides – for whatever reason – that the certification is not for them.

The certification is not designed to force everyone doing open source hardware into a single box, or to exert exclusive control over the world of open source hardware.  Such a task would be impossible, and counter to the purpose of OSHWA.

What the Certification Attempts to Do

Instead, the certification process is designed to be an addition to the open source hardware landscape.  It is being created to address a concern that has been raised a number of times by the community – easily the #1 request we get from the community and OSHWA members.  In Windell Oskay’s post about the certification on Evil Mad Scientist, he accurately sums up the problem:

“But there is something [] rotten, deeply rotten, in the world of open source hardware. And that is that the label “open source hardware,” either in words or represented by the OSHW logo (the keyhole-gear thing above) has been misused so much that it can’t really be trusted.

If you put that label on a piece of hardware, we might expect that this hardware meets the open hardware definition. The definition specifies (amongst other things) that you should be able to obtain the original design files (the “source”), and use them without a “noncommercial use” restriction (the “open”). But it seems like every day I hear about some drone, robot, or development board that turns out to be OSHWINO —Open Source Hardware In Name Only.”

This problem has a number of causes, including some of the licensing challenges related to open source hardware.  Regardless, the certification was the result of OSHWA trying to find a way to give both creators and users of a piece of hardware a degree of certainty that hardware that called itself open source hardware actually complied with a commonly understood definition of open source hardware.  That is, while anyone can call themselves open source hardware, only hardware that actually complied with the rules set out by OSHWA could call itself OSHWA-certified open source hardware.

The Value of Certification

There is no intrinsic value in certification.  For users, it only matters if they feel that a certification provides them with useful information about a piece of hardware they are considering spending time with.  For producers, it only matters if they believe that people will look for the certification and care if they find it.

Neither of these results are inevitable. Fortunately, if it turns out that the certification is not useful to people, it dies a quiet death of neglect.

OSHWA believes that – properly executed – it will be useful.  That is why we are spending the time to create it and present it to the community.  But it may be that there really isn’t a demand for a way to know that open source hardware complies with a commonly held definition of openness.  Or it may be that there is a demand for such a thing, but that this certification isn’t the right way to achieve it.  In either case, OSHWA will go back to the drawing board to try again.

Enforcement

Some members of the community have raised concerns about the enforcement mechanism for noncompliance, specifically the fines.  As was explained in the presentation at the Summit, the enforcement mechanism is an attempt to balance two competing concerns.

On one hand, there has to be a way to punish bad actors who use the certification without complying with it.  That punishment must be significant enough to deter abuse.  Escalating fines are a good way to do that.

On the other hand, we are in the early days of open source hardware and there are not well established ways to apply the definition and best practices to every situation.  In light of that, it is critical that creators acting in good faith have plenty of opportunities to discuss their goals and work towards a resolution before penalties are applied.  The earliest stages of enforcement are designed to create that space.

OSHWA believes that the enforcement process outlined in the certification balances those two concerns.  When reading the certification, it is important to remember that no one has to use the certification and that OSHWA has neither the interest, power, nor authority to punish projects that simply describe themselves as open source hardware and/or use the open gear logo.  The entire regime only applies to projects that decide to opt in to the certification process.

Where We Go Now

The first hard part was taking a proposal through a process of community feedback and discussion.  The next hard part is developing the legal license that will make the system described in the certification document enforceable for projects that opt in.

The execution of this next part is important as the development of the specification itself.  We are cognizant of that, and are doing our best to create licensing language that is clear, approachable, and accurate.  Part of doing that means being as transparent as possible about the process, and open to community feedback.  That is why we launched this idea with a call for community input, and why this blog post exists today.

If you have concerns about the proposal, let us know.  You can use the comments below, contact us, or open a discussion in the forums.  In the meantime, we’re going to focus on finalizing the certification process and not screwing it up.

Open Source Hardware Certification Version 1

This is version 1 of an official certification for open source hardware housed in the Open Source Hardware Association.  It outlines the purpose and goals of such a certification, and establishes the mechanisms for the operation of the certification process itself.

Primary Goals

  • Make it easier for the public to identify open source hardware.
  • Expand the reach of open hardware by making it easier for newer members to join the open source hardware community.

Brief Overview

This is an open source hardware certifications administered by OSHWA.  Users will self-certify compliance in order to use the certification logos.  In doing so, they will submit to oversight and enforcement by OSHWA.

This certification is designed to benefit at least two parts of the open source hardware community.  First, it benefits purchasers of open source hardware by making it easy to identify truly open source hardware in the marketplace.  Projects and products obtaining certification and displaying the certification logo clearly communicate a commonly agreed upon definition of openness with customers and users.  While certification is not a condition for openness, obtaining certification is a way to make it clear to others that a given project is open source hardware.

Second, the certification benefits creators of open source hardware.  By giving creators specific guidelines, certification allows open source hardware creators to confidently declare their projects and products as open source hardware.  Certification also allows creators to defend that declaration by pointing to compliance with specific criteria defined in the certification process.

The certification will operate as a self-certification.  Creators will not apply to OSHWA for certification.  Instead, creators will self-certify compliance with certification standards.  Self-certification will give creators the right to use the OSHWA open source hardware certification logo.  As part of the self-certification process, creators will agree to subject themselves to penalties for non-compliance.  OSHWA will be responsible for enforcing those penalties.

Clarifying Openness

While open source hardware is already well defined, one of the greatest challenges in creating an open source hardware certification is determining how to handle non-open components.  Full openness is a worthy goal, and companies and projects that strive towards it should be identified and commended. However, many well-known open source hardware projects and products strive towards openness but, by necessity, incorporate non-open components.   The open source hardware definition recognizes this reality, and provides guidance on how best to handle non-open components in the context of open source hardware.

In order to address this challenge, the OSHWA certification focuses on the creator’s contribution.  For the purposes of the certification, openness will be determined by the openness of the contribution made by the creators of the project.  A certified project will be required to share its entire contribution (including the contribution of affiliated corporate entities, if appropriate) in accordance with the open source hardware definition, but not expected to avoid third party closed components beyond its control.  A certified project should use open parts over equivalent non-open parts when they are available.  However, no project will be found in violation of the certification simply because it incorporates non-open parts beyond its control.

Finally, certifications are not available aspirationally.  A project or product that intends to be open source but is not yet open source is not eligible for certification.  This includes pre-production projects such as Kickstarter campaigns.  If the certification is used in a Kickstarter-type campaign, the project must at that time be in compliance with certification requirements.  To avoid confusion, projects should not advertise their intention to comply with certification standards until they have met certification standards.

Creator’s Contribution

The creator’s contribution is defined at everything within the creator’s control.  While some elements of a project may come from third parties beyond the scope of the creator’s control (for example, hex-only source files versus the full stack), the creator is required to fully open and document all elements within their control in compliance with the open source hardware definition.  If the creator is or is employed by a corporation, this obligation extends to any elements within the control of that corporation and associated entities.  This requirement is specifically designed to prevent corporations from creating “open subsidiaries” that make use of corporate technology without having to open the technology itself.  In some ways, this requirement can be thought of as a rule of “do the best you can,” while recognizing that the openness of some elements is beyond the control of any individual creator.

Certification

OSHWA open source hardware certification will operate on a fee-free, self-certifying basis. OSHWA will maintain a list of certification requirements at OSHWA.org, and creators are required to notify OSHWA that they intend to make use of the certification.  This notification will take the form of an email to a dedicated email address and its contents will be publicly displayed on the OSHWA website.  Notification will be intentionally lightweight, and OSHWA welcomes the creation and continued development of rich third party databases and listings of open source hardware projects and products.

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.

Enforcement

OSHWA will work to enforce the use of certification marks and invites third parties to bring violations of certification marks by way of informal complaints.  Upon investigation of an alleged violation, OSHWA may impose escalating penalties for violations.  Alleged violators may elect to remove the OSHWA certification logo instead of remedying the violation.  In order to avoid penalties in such situations, alleged violators will be required to comply with a notification regime instigated by OSHWA designed to communicate the decision to impacted parties.

Complaints

Complaints are not required for OSHWA to initiate an investigation of a project or product.  Complaints can be brought by anyone if the complainant believes that an OSHWA open source hardware certification is being used without complying with requirements.  Complainants are highly encouraged to reach out to the potential violators before contacting  OSHWA – many good faith errors can easily be resolved once they are brought to the attention of responsible parties. If that direct contact fails to resolve the concern, complaints should be sent to a dedicated email address and should include as much information and context as possible in order to assist investigation.  Complaints will be investigated at OSHWA’s discretion.  As a general rule, complaints cannot be made anonymously to OSHWA.  However, unless it is relevant to the investigation, OSHWA will avoid disclosing the identity of the complainant to the target of the complaint.  Additionally, OSHWA reserves the right to allow anonymous complaints in extraordinary circumstances.

Penalties

Penalties for the use of OSHWA open source hardware certifications are designed to make it easy for violators to return to compliance (or become compliant in the first place).  As such, penalties are designed to escalate over time, giving violators multiple opportunities to comply before the imposition of significant penalties.  For each level of penalty, OSHWA will make best efforts to communicate with the party responsible for the project or product in question.  The responsible party will have a reasonable amount of time to respond to the complaint and to each layer of penalty before OSHWA imposes additional penalty.  OSHWA alone will determine if a project or product is in compliance and when to impose penalties.  As appropriate, OSHWA will lift penalties when projects become compliant.  Enforcement will consist of:

  • Bringing the alleged failure to comply to the attention of the responsible party and giving the responsible party an opportunity to respond and/or correct
  • A second attempt to contact the responsible party to structure a path towards compliance
  • Public listing of the non-compliant project or product on the OSHWA website
  • Monthly fines not to exceed $500 per month
  • Monthly fines not to exceed $1,000 per month
  • Monthly fines not to exceed $10,000 per month

OSHWA Supports Ownership in Amicus Brief

Last week OSHWA joined our friends at Public Knowledge, EFF, the Digital Right to Repair Coalition, and Public Citizen in telling the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that ownership matters.  Why is ownership so important?  Because owning something means that you have the right to fix it or change it or integrate it into something else without first asking permission from the original manufacturer.  A manufacturer of an object shouldn’t use patent law to get a perpetual veto over how you use that object.

The case involves Lexmark (the 2d printer company). Over the years, Lexmark has tried to use pretty much every legal trick it could think of to lock down its printers and prevent people from using non-Lexmark toner.  Having worked through all of its other options, in this case Lexmark turned to patent law.

Patents give patent owners a lot of control over objects.  However, that control largely disappears when the owner decides to sell an object.  My phone is chock full of patents that allow the manufacturer to prevent someone else from making one without permission.  However, once I buy my phone, I can do pretty much whatever I want with it – paint it green, use it as a coaster, or sell it to the phone manufacturer’s ex that they hate.  This limit to patent control is called “patent exhaustion.”  Essentially, once you sell an object protected by patent, you have “exhausted” your patent control over it.

Lexmark is looking for a loophole to patent exhaustion.  They argue that patent exhaustion only applies if the object was sold in the US.  If the object was originally sold overseas, Lexmark argues, patent exhaustion should not apply.  If this argument sounds vaguely familiar, the US Supreme Court heard a very similar case relating to copyright a few years ago.  In that case, a student was buying official copies of textbooks in Thailand (at low Thai prices) and reselling them in California (at higher – but still lower than the publisher was charging – US prices).  The Supreme Court rejected a foreign sale loophole for copyright protected books, and now we are urging the Federal Circuit to reject a foreign sale loophole for patent protected printer toner.

In addition to undermining the concept of ownership, allowing such a loophole would undermine confidence in the market.  Imagine if you needed to research the supply chain history of everything you buy.  Two identical objects on a shelf could be treated very differently by the law depending on where they happened to be originally sold by the manufacturer.  How are you supposed to know which one you really get to own and which one is still under control of the original patent owner?  That’s a research burden that serves no purpose.

Charles at Public Knowledge and Vera at EFF have good summaries of what is going on in this case.  We at OSHWA are proud to be able to contribute to this effort and look forward to updating you as it develops.

Your Input Needed for Open Source Hardware Certification

Today the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) is kicking off the process to create an Open Source Hardware Certification.  In addition to all of the amazing things that will happen at this year’s Open Hardware Summit, our goal is to be able to roll out the first version of the Open Source Hardware certification this fall.  In order to be able to do that, we need your input now.  You can find all about the certification and the process here, but the rest of this post will give you a quick overview of what you need to know:

Who: The Open Source Hardware Community and the Open Source Hardware Association.  if you are reading this, that probably means YOU.

What: A certification program for projects so that people can know that the project really is open source hardware.

When: From now until the Open Hardware Summit.  The first deadline for comments and answers to the questions is June 26, 2015.

Where: Comments and answers are being collected in the Open Source Hardware Association forums.  We are aiming to roll out the first version of the certification process at the Summit in Philadelphia.

Why:  While the community has done great work on developing open source hardware principles, many people are still looking for a simple way to know that something really is open source hardware.  Hopefully the certification will be a big step towards that goal.

How:  The initial proposal is available here.  Once you have read the proposal, weigh in on the questions in the forums here.  The OSHWA board will use those answers to craft a final version of the proposal.  If more input is needed, there may be a second round of questions for the community.

So what are you waiting for?  Check out the full proposal here and starting giving feedback here!