Open hardware should not be a strategy to overcome licensing

First published:

Last Edited:

Number of edits:

Developing hardware is time and money-consuming. In many academic settings, the costs of developing hardware (also open hardware) are absorbed by funding agencies, universities, etc. (see who assumes the risk while doing research). If a project can be transformed into a business, it normally goes through the process of technology transfer, in which licensing agreements are signed between different parties.

With open hardware (or open source, for the matter), the discussion is much more nuanced. Once something is openly licensed and anyone can build and sell it, there's the potential for a big conflict. Is it fair that an individual or a company profits exclusively from the result of the public investment? At what stage is it decided that something can be released openly, and who gets a say on the royalties that a product can generate? This discussion by André Maia Chagas makes the contradiction very clear: you make it open and then you expect to get royalties?

It is not only a matter of legality, but of morality. Technology transfer is a process that already generates some controversies (see, for example: measure the success of technology transfer from universities by using the total number of patents, licenses and spin-offs). Adding the extra dimension of being able to circumvent cash flow towards the institutions that absorbed the initial risk under the shield of a seemingly morally correct umbrella is, at least, something that the academic community should discuss at length.

Some researchers even suggest that licensing hardware openly can be beneficial to bypass intellectual property rules[@hohlbein2021a]. Once you make it open, you are free to take it to your next job (either in academia or elsewhere). Overall, little discussion is given on the role that institutions should have in the decision, and not just the individuals.


Share your thoughts on this note
Aquiles Carattino
Aquiles Carattino
This note you are reading is part of my digital garden. Follow the links to learn more, and remember that these notes evolve over time. After all, this website is not a blog.
© 2021 Aquiles Carattino
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Privacy Policy