OSHW Licenses: The FOSS hardware licensing

The workflow for hardware projects is significantly different than software development and quite different requirements for licensing. This post is focussed mostly on the circuit board / electronics side of OSHW since that’s the only part I have experience with.

For electronics an important part to remember is that circuits are not copyrightable, only the specific drawing of a schematic. Circuits are patentable though.

The basic options for licensing your OSHW are:

  • License the files under an art license like Creative Commons or a software license like GPL. This has the downside that the wording in these licenses doesn’t really cover hardware design well and might be difficult to legally enforce.
  • License the files under one of the OSHW licenses:

The OSHW specific licenses obviously fit better for hardware but they suffer from having annoying requirements like distributing the tutorial on how to license an CERN OHL project in PDF or ODF form in your distribution as addition to the actual license and require a CHANGELOG file and contact information.

Compared to software licensing there’s quite a bit of additional work needed to be in compliance with the license and the benefits are not super significant. While you can make the schematic drawing copyleft the way electronics are designed usually means you’re re-drawing it anyway to fit inside your own schematic.