For Approval: Open Source Hardware License

Simon Phipps Simon.Phipps at Sun.COM
Fri Jul 6 17:38:33 UTC 2007

On Jul 6, 2007, at 04:45, Allison Randal wrote:

> Simon Phipps wrote:
>> Sun contributed to OpenSPARC the full design of the UltraSPARC T1,  
>> including Verilog sources, emulators, tools and more, and used the  
>> GPLv2 as the license. It is thus not obvious to me either why a  
>> specific license is essential.
> It's pretty obvious to me. On the simplest level, you want to use  
> terms describing the "work" that are relevant to hardware. Sure,  
> you can apply a software license to hardware by analogy, but it  
> will never be clear. (e.g. What do you mean by "copying the source  
> code" of a piece of hardware? Where does the distinction between  
> hardware designs and physical hardware enter into it?) We're  
> expanding into new fields of law here, and we need to start  
> developing the tools of the craft.

Maybe we are, but the trend I observe is that chip designs are more  
software than hardware until very late in the design process. The  
copyrighted source that corresponds to the physical chip has a very  
strong parallel to copyrighted source corresponding to object code.

> As to the choice of which license to base it on, it's largely  
> governed by the intended use of the licensed hardware. If you  
> extend the analogy of the GPL to hardware, it implies that your  
> open chip could only be used within larger pieces of hardware that  
> are also completely open.

That was not our intent. We simply want to make sure that when  
OpenSPARC designs are used by others they contribute to the pool of  
know-how of the OpenSPARC community. There is no implication that the  
rest of the device of which the chip is a component becomes subject  
to the terms of the license.

> Someday we'll get to that point, but at the moment, as we build up  
> momentum in open hardware, that's a huge obstacle both in  
> convincing companies to open up their hardware, and in convincing  
> others to use the open hardware.

Even if it is, I am simply asserting that when we chose to take this  
step we considered a range of licenses for the design source and  
concluded GPLv2 was the most appropriate. I believe many OSI-approved  
Free licenses would be appropriate.

My view was and is that the right place to start is with existing  
licenses and that we should solve problems only when we encounter  
them. So far I have not encountered any in connection with OpenSPARC.


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