Frequently Asked Questions

What is open source hardware?

Open source hardware is hardware whose design is made publicly available so that anyone can study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware based on that design. The hardware’s source - the design from which it is made - is available in the preferred format for making modifications to it.

What is the relationship between patents and open source hardware?

Patents, like copyrights, trademarks, and other types of intellectual property rights, are compatible with open source hardware. If your hardware is protected by a patent that you control, you must license the patent in a way that complies with the open source hardware definition so that others are free to use and build upon it.

In practice, many creators of open source hardware do not obtain patents on their hardware. Copyright protection is automatic and free, which means that creators must actively apply an open license in order to allow others to make use of things like software that are protected by copyright. In contrast, patent protection requires applying – and paying – for a patent. That makes functional hardware “born free” by default. Others are free to make use of and build upon most functional hardware unless the creator takes active steps to close it off by obtaining a patent. Many creators of open source hardware decide not to go through the time and expense of obtaining a patent merely to be able to freely license it.

Why did OSHWA create this certification?

The certification makes it easy for creators and users to identify hardware that meets the community definition of open source hardware. Prior to its creation, the Community had raised concerns that the term “open source hardware” was being used to mean different things by different people. While no one owns the term “open source hardware,” the certification makes it easy to identify projects that comply with the specific community definition of open source hardware. The unique id granted to each piece of certified hardware also makes it easy for users to find documentation and information about their hardware.

What does the certification do?

The certification creates a legally binding and unique logo that can only be used by projects that comply with the community definition of open source hardware. It allows users to know that the definition of “open source hardware” used by a specific project matches the community definition. The OSHWA certification mark can only be used by projects that comply with the community definition.

What doesn’t the certification do?

The certification does not limit how people can use the term “open source hardware” or the open gear logo. It has no impact on anyone who interprets “open source hardware” to mean something different than the community definition, nor does it prevent those people from continuing to use the gear logo.

Can I use non-open components in my open source hardware?

Yes. While open components are always preferred, today it is not always possible to find all open source components. The concept of the “user contribution” is central to the open source hardware certification process. You must make available every component that it is within your power to make available. If you do not have the power to make the component available (for example, if the patent for the component is held by another party), you are not required to make that component freely available. However, in order to comply with the requirements, the closed component cannot require an NDA for access.

How does the certification logo related to the open gear logo?

The two logos are compatible and can be used together. The certification logo is designed to complement the existing open gear logo. The open gear logo has been incredibly successful in raising awareness of open source hardware. However, people have used it to represent a number of different interpretations of what it means to be open source hardware. The certification logo on a piece of hardware means that the hardware complies with the community definition of open source hardware maintained by OSHWA. The open gear logo may mean that the creator of the hardware believes that the hardware is open source, but it does not guarantee that the creator’s definition of open source matches the community definition of open source.

Do I register projects individually?

Yes. The certification works on a per-project basis. OSHWA does not certify individuals, companies, or organizations as open source hardware-compliant.

What happens when I have a new version of a registered project?

You must register each new version of a certified project. This is because the documentation for the new versions will be somewhat different from documentation from previous projects. Registering subsequent versions allows users to track documentation that is relevant to their version of the project. At this time, OSHWA defers to license holders to determine when a set of changes become substantial enough to justify re-registration. As a rule of thumb, re-registration should occur if the documentation for the existing registration would no longer be complete for the current release.

What happens if I want to remove my project from the registry and/or stop using the certification mark?

You may stop using the certification mark at any time. However, you may not remove a project from the registry. This is because users of the registered project may still rely on the information in the registry to access documentation and other relevant information. OSHWA may revoke certification from hardware that is no longer compliant with the certification requirements and note the non-compliance in the registry.

How much does it cost to register?

Registration is free.

Can I certify a project before it is publicly launched?

Yes. You will need to provide links to the final documentation that you will make available at launch. OSHWA will then review your project and, if appropriate, grant you provisional certification. Once your project is live OSHWA will review the publicly available documentation in order to ensure that it matches the requirements. If the publicly available documentation matches the documentation used during the application process, the provisional certification will become formal certification. Email for details.

Do I need to display my entire UID when I use the Certification Logo?

No. Each certified item recieves a unique identifier (UID) made up of a two character country code and six serially assigned numbers. For example, the first certified project based in the United States received a UID of US000001. It is permitted to omit the zeros and simply list the UID as US1 when displaying the UID.

What if I have a question not addressed by this FAQ?

Email and we’ll do our best to get you an answer.