An International Standard for Open (Source) Hardware

The following guest post is by Jürgen Neumann, from the Open Source Hardware and Design Alliance. Jürgen will be joining us at OKCon 2011 as part of a panel on Open Hardware and Open Standards

As the free open source paradigm is shifting towards open everything,
there are still a few obstacles to completely shift it into the physical
world. Most importantly, the sustainable sharing of the design through a
resilient copy-left like license such as GPL or CC can not be transfered
towards the devices as such, as those licenses are based on copyright,
which can not be applied to things. The equivalent would be patents, but
until today there is no clear path for a patent for the public domain.
And besides that, the process of patenting can be very time consuming
and expensive.

Invention patents supposedly appeared in Venice in the seventeenth
century. Their present form stems from the exception to inventors
granted by the Statute of Monopolies 1624 (England) to curb arbitrary
royal letter patent granting. Back then an invention patent was a
significant contribution to economic freedom and it did reward

But today’s practice of patents has almost turned this notion completely
upside down. In particular the abuse of the scope of patents has led to
many problems that above all create legal uncertainty especially for
the weakest economic players. Huge corporates claim a patent on
almost everything, even the most obvious things or just slightly
modified blueprints of nature. Only the laws of nature and scientific
discovery still remain excluded from patentability. The patent system
has become key to investment protection and regulation. Outside big
corporates it is preventing innovation rather than boosting it.

On the other hand, as a current UK study underlines, in aggregate,
consumers’ annual product development expenditures are 2.3 times larger
than the annual consumer product R&D expenditures of all firms in the UK

This growing spreading of so called “consumer” driven innovation is
often connected to the ideas and spirit of the free software or open
everything movement. There is a great potential for a turning point,
especially when we think about the great need for accessible knowledge,
green technologies and smarter products to solve many of the world’s
most urgent problems.

To unleash this potential and raise people’s awareness we have started
with a label at the Open Source Hardware and Design Alliance (OHANDA).
Now we want to shift it towards an international private standard.

A private standard for hardware would give open source hardware
the necessary protection by making the specifications part of the
public domain through a standardized publication procedure. In
addition, fabrication standards and code of ethics could be guaranteed
through a label which could take the form of a registered collective
trademark or private label (such as FSC or bio).

You are very welcome to join!

See the OKCon programme here

You can register for OKCon here

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