Misconceptions about OSHWA’s Open Source Hardware Certification v1

In my role as an OSHWA board member (up for re-election! ::shameless::), I spent some time over the past year (but not as much as OSHWA board president Michael Weinberg!) reading over and commenting on the evolving drafts of the Open Source Hardware Certification.

I pushed hard for certain lines and clarifications, and I just want to quickly address a few possible misconceptions or even straw men I’ve seen on recent posts about it (mostly in the comments). There are valid reasons both to support or dislike the proposal, but I believe the following three are mostly based on misunderstandings:


Folks seem to be misconstruing the “penalties” mentioned. Just to be clear, the ONLY way you’d have to pay fees is if your work is not actually open source hardware as defined in the OSH Definition. And even then, you could simply remove the logo from your products instead of paying the fees. See Michael’s response in the comments of the Certification announcement.

The idea is that no truly open source hardware project could ever incur fees. Only the bad actors!

Certified projects vs Open Source Hardware projects

Q: If you don’t get your project certified, can it still be open source hardware?

A: YES. If it conforms to the Open Source Hardware Definition. See the end of paragraph 4:

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.

Certification vs. Licensing

Are they redundant? Are they the same thing? Does OSHWA want me to certify instead of license? No.

Also, I saw a comment on the Cert announcement that commented:

I’m seeing a stark difference between this proposal and a free (libre) software license like the GPL.

Yes! Most definitely! The cert is NOT a license, and works on a different principle. But importantly, the certification relies on compliance with the Open Source Hardware Definition, which requires that designs be licensed!

The Definition uses the word license 34 times. Certification and licensing aren’t the same thing, but certification supports licensing, adds extra clarity, and adds the ability by OSHWA to call out bad actors.

Thanks! And especially thanks to Michael for his hard work on this initiative!

P.S. I’m also in agreement with Windell that to do this well, we’ll need to be really thorough and careful — and to have a really awesome cert logo!

2 thoughts on “Misconceptions about OSHWA’s Open Source Hardware Certification v1”

  1. On the third point, OSHWA (and everyone else) already has the capability to publicly shame anyone abusing the good will that open source has in the marketplace. The only way that a certification gives OSHWA any extra power is if we create an identifier that has its own value because people look for it, and then people start abusing it, because there are legal rights associated with trademarks and such. Even a successful certification won’t bring any extra ability to “enforce” open source standards on anyone who doesn’t bother abusing the certification and just sticks to abusing the term.

    Even assuming someone does abuse a successful open hardware certification, financial penalties will only work if that person made a mistake and wants to comply. If they just don’t care, they won’t pay the penalty.

    That’s why I recommended against any kind of penalty and why I see it being counterproductive now. People are focusing on it as a threat despite the fact that it’s unlikely to ever be invoked and even then it’s unlikely to be effective.

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