Patent reform is on everyone’s mind. With a whole lot less fanfare, Version 1.0 of the Open Source Hardware definition was released last week by a community of volunteer hackers, business people, and other experts. Open source hardware is a new way to share design information. It gives inventors the option to eschew a patent and instead, freely publish design details, blueprints and other information about mechanical and electrical inventions (for example robots and printed circuit boards). Version 1.0 of the definition is not yet a license – defining license details will be the next step.
Open sourcing software code and hardware designs could be viewed as the ultimate enactment of the spirit of the Bayh Dole Act, whose purpose is to get federally-funded university inventions into widespread, public use. Open source licenses are controversial. Depending on your point of view, open source hardware licenses could someday act as an “unpatent,” flooding the coffers of prior art and stifling company innovation. Or, like low cost, customizable open source software such as Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP, freely shared hardware design information could create a bigger playing field and stimulate innovation and profitable invention.
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Author: Melba Kurman