Licensing options for firmware

Scott Miller scott at
Mon Apr 4 18:50:05 UTC 2005

I'm developing a hardware device and I intend to release the firmware code
under an open source license.  I've got some concerns, though.

I'm not really worried about domestic competition - there's only one
manufacturer in the US worth mentioning, and I don't think they're going to
be a problem.  My main concern is a handful of Japanese manufacturers that
currently integrate older, less capable devices into their high-end products
(VHF and UHF mobile radios).  I'm worried that if I release my firmware
under the GPL, for example, they'll simply snap it up and integrate it.
They would almost certainly not contribute any useful additions to the
code - most likely the only changes would be the removal of certain features
and trivial modifications to match their hardware.  And if history is any
guide, the final product would not have field-upgradable firmware.  Updates
would require sending the unit in for factory service, so the end users
would gain no real benefit from the open source license.

I also can't see this leading to lower prices in the radios.  Even though
they might be saving some money in licensing, I'm sure they wouldn't lower
prices - they set them as high as the market will bear, and differences in
features that might account for a 50% difference in price are nothing more
than firmware differences and maybe an extra connector or two.

I'd feel more comfortable if I could restrict the license so that users
could do whatever they want with it on my hardware, and on any hardware
built for non-commercial purposes.  I'd reserve the right to license the
code for commercial use for a fee.

I realize that this probably means it won't qualify as true Open Source.
But I'm in this to benefit the community, not a bunch of Japanese
corporations.  And I'm sinking thousands of dollars of my own money into
developing and manufacturing the hardware.  I face a lot more risk without
some protection for my code, and that risk might make it more difficult to
secure funding for the manufacturing.

Any suggestions?  Is there an existing license that would accomplish this?
Something like the Creative Commons attribution/non-commercial/share-alike



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