Legal and Policy Issues

Date: 23rd March

Gustavo Pereya Irujo
Leonardo Sehn Alves
Frayja van den Boom
Thomas Haerve Mboa Nkoudou
Joel Murphy
Phillip Ross
Kina Smith
Daniel Vicenta Sierra
Tarunima Prabhakar
Kina Smith
Byron Tarabata
Max Liborion

Action Items:


  • Concerns in academia: Funding mandates patenting
  • Concerns in business: Designs replicated without credit; can also be patented which then creates issues for the developer.

General Information about Copyright/Patents:

  • you can’t copyright physical objects.
  • OSH licenses are not legally enforceable but community enforceable
    • You can copyright the schematic but not the hardware itself (in the US)
  • Rules in countries such as Brazil are different (debate on legal aspects of OSHW in Brazil, explaining differences to other legal systems)
  • You can use a defensive patent
  • Everything you write/create automatically belongs to you- you don’t have to enforce the copyright.
  • Creative commons is another form of copyright license.
  • Copyright does not protect the information. It is the writing down of the information in a book that creates issues of access.
  • Patent: Ideally given to novel and non-obvious changes.
  • If you are going to patent, you also have to be willing to defend it which might be time and money intensive.
  • There is additional issue of patenting in multiple countries.
  • Realistically, you only patent in the few countries that are your key markets.
  • OSHWA has details: Differences between copyright, trademark, patent.
  • Enforcement in other countries is far more challenging.

Alternatives to Patenting/ Suggested Pathways:

  • Raspberry Pi is an interesting use case.
    • It is an informal license. The organization decides if it is worthy of a pi name- they own the trademark to the title.
  • Making stuff as publicly known as possible can also protect against patenting;
    • Can’t get patent on anything that is public.
    • A good patent officer looks at all literature (Donald Duck example).
    • Political strategy. Find a collaborator who has political clout so your OSH work is recognized
  • In the ideal world there should be no patents. The purpose of patents was to:
    • Spread the ideas
    • Reward to inventor
  • If you are in a situation where you don’t have an option to not patent (university grant needs), use tricks:
    • accidentally share it- put it on a slide during a presentation, talk about it in an interview.
    • Collaborate with people in other countries.
    • Collaborate with people under 18.
    • University has 60 days to patent. Find a way to get those 60 days to lapse without it being finalized (loopholes in the system).
    • start the process of patent and then quit in between (be aware of the system adopted in your University, processes may be automatically continued against your will by the responsible office in the University).
  • Building community norms/standards around OSH is necessary.
    • has to do with culture and agreement. What are shared ethics and value?
    • Social awareness of how to use technology.
  • Many patents might have expired and are thus available in public domain. There is no notification of when a patent ends. Many companies don’t give a lot information out. We need to document expired patents and make it more accessible.
  • Shared best practices- affects all of GOSH. GOSH should come together on what agreement we can make. How do we can define open hardware- look at definitions by different OH organizations.
  • Look at self-certification. Open Source Hardware Association provides a certification contingent on documentation and other requirements.
    • But should we go certification route? Certification might support certain power structures. Fostering a culture might be a better route?
    • Effective documentation is a good defense against patents. Certification might not be necessary.
  • Awareness of authorities: what can we (researchers) give to universities instead of patent/ convince them of its benefits?
  • Asking the universities might work. Sometimes universities too might not be in favor of patents.
  • Legal system is very vague and gray and semantics can help sway the case one way or the other.
    *Open access movement has overlapping concerns and we should connect with it.

International Hardware Patent/Copyright Issues:


  • Common as air- book about history of commons
  • Open Science and Open Issues, Book on open science movement, brings perspective of Global South.
  • WIPO is a good reference for copyrights and patent rules.
1 Like


Since the editions on wiki don’t take the topic to the top of the forum list, I will also leave an answer with the lik to the video on the debate about the legal aspects of open source hardware in Brazil and the differences to the legal system in other countries that happened in the first brazillian gathering on open source hardware, last year.

I remember this content was of interest to different people.

Thank you very much!

Actually it takes, but still, it makes things clearer.

Thank you very much!

Hi Leonardo,
Thanks for sharing the video!
I have been a caught up this last month with some academic commitments, but aim to get working on a legal frameworks document for different countries by June. If you or other folks have already started working on one, I would love to join the effort.