Open Hardware [Common Knowledge]

Creative Commons was fortunate enough to be involved in a fascinating workshop last week in New York on Open Hardware. Video is at the link, photos below.

The background is that I met Ayah Bdeir at the Global Entrepreneurship Week festivities in Beirut, and we started talking about her LittleBits project (which is, crudely, like Legos for electrics assembly - even someone as spatially impaired as me could build a microphone or pressure sensor in minutes).

Ayah introduced me to the whole open hardware (OH) world and asked a lot of very good, hard to answer questions about how to use CC in the context of OH. It became clear that a lot of the people involved in the movement didn't have a clear grasp of how the various layers of intellectual property might or might not apply.

Ayah suggested in February that we put together a little workshop - almost a teach-in - around a meeting of Arduino advocates happening in NYC on the 18-19 of March. In a matter of three weeks, we got representatives from a bunch of major players to commit: Arduino (world's largest open hardware platform), BugLabs, Adafruit, Chumby, Make magazine, even Chris Anderson. Mako Hill from the Free Software Foundation came and @rejon made it there at the last minute too, wearing his openmoko and qi hardware hats. Eyebeam hosted it for free, and we picked up the snacks and cheese trays.

I gave a very short intro laying out how the science commons project @ creative commons has spent a lot of time looking at IPRs as a layered problem, dealing with it at data levels, materials levels, and patent levels, as well as the fact-idea-expression relationships in science. This was to create some context for why we might have interesting ideas.

Thinh proceeded to deliver a masterful lecture on IP that went on for hours, though intended to be 30 minutes. It was an interactive, give-and-take, wonderful session to watch, ranging from copyrights to mask works to trade secrets to trademarks and patents. The folks there liked it enough to suspend the break period after five minutes and dive back into IP.

After that we had a lengthy interactive session driven by the OH folks in which they tried to decide what a declaration of principles might look like, how detailed to get, how to engage in existing efforts to do similar things (like OHANDA), the role of the publishers like Wired and Make to support definitions of open hardware, and how open one had to be in order to be open.

There was no formal outcome at the close of business, but I expect a declaration or statement of some sort to emerge (akin to the Budapest Declaration on Open Access from my own world of scholarly publishing). There's clearly a lot of work to be done. And the reality is that copyrights and patents and trademarks and norms and software and hardware are going to be hard to reconcile into a simple, single license that "makes copyleft hardware" a reality. But it was fun to be in a room with so many passionate, brilliant people who want to make the world a better place through collaborative research.

More to come once results emerge...

More like this