Subject: Re: For Approval: Open Source Hardware License
From: Allison Randal <>
Date: Thu, 05 Jul 2007 20:45:50 -0700

Simon Phipps wrote:
> On Jul 5, 2007, at 22:23, Wilson, Andrew wrote:
>> Jamey Hicks wrote:
>>> There are no OSI-approved licenses for open source hardware, so I am
>>> proposing this license.
>> It is not immediately obvious to me why no existing, OSI-approved open
>> source licenses,
>> although not perhaps originally intended for such applications, could
>> not also be used for hardware descriptions written in VHDL or Verilog.
> Sun contributed to OpenSPARC the full design of the UltraSPARC T1, 
> including Verilog sources, emulators, tools and more, and used the GPLv2 
> as the license. It is thus not obvious to me either why a specific 
> license is essential.

It's pretty obvious to me. On the simplest level, you want to use terms 
describing the "work" that are relevant to hardware. Sure, you can apply 
a software license to hardware by analogy, but it will never be clear. 
(e.g. What do you mean by "copying the source code" of a piece of 
hardware? Where does the distinction between hardware designs and 
physical hardware enter into it?) We're expanding into new fields of law 
here, and we need to start developing the tools of the craft.

As to the choice of which license to base it on, it's largely governed 
by the intended use of the licensed hardware. If you extend the analogy 
of the GPL to hardware, it implies that your open chip could only be 
used within larger pieces of hardware that are also completely open. 
Someday we'll get to that point, but at the moment, as we build up 
momentum in open hardware, that's a huge obstacle both in convincing 
companies to open up their hardware, and in convincing others to use the 
open hardware.

I expect we'll end up with a small set of open hardware licenses, 
representing the spectrum from BSD to GPL. And since we're starting 
fresh here, we have the opportunity to set it up a logical set of 
related open hardware licenses that can be selected based on intended 
use, similar to Creative Commons.