Why you should certify your open hardware

In the six months since OSHWA's open hardware certification launched, more than 100 projects have received the designation. Here's why yours should, too.
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The open source hardware movement has been gaining momentum since 2010 with new industries joining the community at a rapid pace. In fact, the maker and 3D printing markets are expected to become a US$ 8.5 billion market by 2020. Open source hardware has grown so big, it has gotten difficult to keep track of the large number of open source projects and ensure all projects labeled "open source" follow the community-created open source hardware principles and definition. In fact, not all maker items are open source nor 3D printers.

Because of all the momentum in the industry and the potential for confusion, the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) launched a certification program in 2016. It's important to recognize that the request for a certification came from hobbyists and Fortune 500 companies alike.

Open Source Hardware Association certification logo

Open Source Hardware Association, Copyright

One reason certification is so important is that it is difficult to license hardware without a patent. So OSHWA came up with a hack and produced a trademarked certification for companies that wish to apply it. This solution is a hack because it still doesn't protect the hardware or a patent, but it does protect the mark. It also gives a company some legal recourse if a clone of its project closes something down or doesn't follow the open source hardware definition, as long as the certification trademark appears on the clone as well.

In the six months since the certification launched, companies and hobbyists in nine different countries have already certified more than 100 projects or products.

The certification is a step to thinking holistically about open source, including hardware, software, data, and so forth. I can't talk about a holistically open source future without mentioning the Internet of Things. IoT is the poster child of hardware, software, and data coming together. Although IoT has existed in many forms throughout the decades, often as machine-to-machine (M2M) technology, personal devices are increasing the number of connected devices, and many of them rely on the end user to update their security patches. This amalgamation means industries are overlapping and working closely together.

OSHWA's hope is that open source hardware will be revered as a secure option for IoT, just as open source has done for software. But it's up to hardware to share the responsibility for security. While OSHWA's certification doesn't cover security, it can tell an end user that a certified product or project follows the communal rules of open source hardware and can be held to those standards.

We urge you to support OSHWA and certify any open hardware you may be working on and, in return, we can offer a bit of legal support through the certification program. Next time you're tinkering with hardware, we hope you'll ask if there an open source version out there, then check out the OSHWA Certification Directory for a quick answer.

And we're also hoping you'll join us at the 2017 Open Hardware Summit in Denver, Colorado, on October 5 to hear more about our progress and the growth of the open source hardware movement.

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Alicia Gibb is an advocate for open hardware, researcher, and a hardware hacker. Alicia has worked within the open source hardware community since 2008. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), an organization to educate and promote building and using open source hardware.

1 Comment

Anything serving as a workaround to the patent system is OK by me. I've long wanted a mark that would easily identify open hardware, so when the open hardware logo started popping up on boxes and boards, I was hugely appreciative. I hope to see it on a lot more in the future.

It would be nice if there were a mark for "open compatible", as well. Not really in terms of licensing, but in terms of what can drive the hardware. I'm thinking specifically of laptops and computers and printers; it would just be nice to have an assurance before buying that yes, I will be able to use $thing with nothing but open source software and firmware, even if some of the internal components (WiFi chipset, for instance) are not open themselves.

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