Open Source Hardware: Call for Papers

Jeremy Bennett jeremy.bennett at
Sat Sep 12 13:36:16 UTC 2009

I know the OSI and this group is primarily about open source software.
However, I think the following call for papers will be of interest to
this community:

Call for Papers

Journal of Information Law and Technology/
European Journal of Law and Technology

Protecting Open Source Hardware?

Protection for software produced under the GPL is well known and shown
to be successful, based upon copyright protection and licensing. It is
not so obvious that the same model can be moved over to hardware, since
historically engineers have been allowed to reverse engineer products at
will, so long as they are not protected by patents etc.   The heart of
the problem, so far as opens source hardware goes, is that the open
source philosophy relies on the key principle that you are free to use
my work, but only if you subsequently share your derived work, so the
benefit continues. It relies on a suitable legal framework to enforce
this "contract".

Current developments in hardware are moves away from the traditional
'Von Neumann' architecture to multi-core, parallel processing forms and
also system-on-a-chip approaches. These are very complex and difficult
to produce and this is where companies seek to make money.  Protection
is important since special purpose chips are now part of almost every
device being manufactured and markets can be large. It is not clear how
best protection for these can be enabled - earlier forms such as 'mask
protection' are no longer so relevant when the whole process of design
and manufacture is through special purpose languages. 

The question we are setting in this call for papers is: what is the best
method to enforce the open source philosophy for hardware, to ensure
that contributions based upon the work of others remain open for others
to develop. 
One example of the attempt to produce relevant licensing is the TAPR
Open Hardware License - which has been discussed
by the open access community.
However, since 'Open Source Hardware' is relatively unexplored in terms
of legal issues, articles will be important contributions to the legal
debate. We are seeking papers which look into the relevant issues and
which might help to move the open source model into this new arena.

Topics could include:

1. What are the issues which separate software and hardware open source
2. What elements of the GPL are appropriate or not appropriate for
protecting hardware developments from freeloading?
3. Is a new 'Hardware GPL' model required?
4. Is hardware protection possible through the programming which
underpins development?
5. What problems arise from 'contractual' models of protection?
6. Is it possible to develop an 'international' consensus on protection?
7. Can hardware - where it is not subject to patent - ever be protected

These, of course, are the issues which lawyers looked at in terms of
software in the 1980s.  The developments in hardware ('chip') protection
now mean that the same kinds of questions asked then, must be asked now,
as the economics and manufacturing of chip technology moves into a new

Technical advice will be available to legal authors to ensure full
understanding of these issues.  An overview of current design and
manufacturing contexts is attached (sent on request to save mailing list

If you wish to contribute to the Special Edition, then please contact
Philip Leith at p.leith at

Tel:      +44 (1590) 610184
Cell:     +44 (7970) 676050
SkypeID: jeremybennett
Email:   jeremy.bennett at

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