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I won't be using an open source hardware logo on my boards any longer

Saar Drimer

I'm very enthusiastic about open source hardware. I've written PCBmodE, which is open source software, and unless a client does not want it to be, the boards I design with it are open source hardware by default. I offer a default 20% discount for OSHW contract work.

Without much thought I've been adding the most common open source hardware logo onto my boards. I wanted it to mean "this is open source hardware" and "I support open source hardware". Now that I have given it some thought I have come to the conclusion that it means much more than that, meaning that I may not agree or approve of. My solution is to not use it any more. This article explains why.

(I want to get something out of the way. I'm not a licensing expert, and I don't know much about the wheeling and dealing that go on behind the scenes at organisations such as OSHWA, TAPR, OHANDA, CERN, etc. who are active brands in this space. As far as I'm concerned they are all trying to do their best for the community. But life's too short for the details and politics of it. So I concede that most of what I say is based on casual reading, experience, feelings, and intuition and that it may apply to me alone.)

By branding ourselves and the things we're associated with we endorse and support that brand. We help build that brand by displaying it even when no money is exchanged. Considering the implications of this in a deeper than superficial way is hard for most things, but not so for the things we ourselves create and have control over. I'm typically very conscious of that and I'm primarily concerned about how brand association reflects on me, now and in the future -- I rarely wear branded clothes or use Apple products, for example.

Right. I slap a logo of a brand on my board, which will be there forever and project an image that is associated with that brand. I then wonder. Why am I using this logo and not another? Do I really have a good feel for the image this logo conjures when people see it? Do I fully appreciate the association this logo has with a particular agenda or license, now and in the future, intended or not? Does the use of this logo have locale-specific implications? Do I fully understand the legal implications of using this logo? Does the use of this logo conflict with the actual license I've chosen? What benefit do I get from promoting this particular brand? What will I do and feel when this logo is taken over by another brand? What will I do when the specification or restrictions change for the use and association of this logo?

There may be some satisfactory answers to these questions, but together they pose a very compelling reason to not bother. Even if there are answers today, tomorrow they may be different -- things move fast and emerging properties are frequent. We're still figuring all of this stuff out! My experience tells me that standards organisations are commonly plagued by "design by committee" issues despite good intentions, and this only gets worse when corporations start getting interested. This is otherwise considered a good thing, but may turn ugly when they become heavy handed with their cash prises.

Given all of this, I ask if the benefit of using a logo on my board is worth putting myself in a potentially unknown and uncomfortable situation? It is not. But there are other reasons why I'm not going to use an OSHW logo (of any kind) any more.

If all I wanted to say was "This is an open source hardware board; I support open source hardware", the logo does me a disservice, because its baggage-heavy nature still does not release people from the obligation to seek out the license terms for what I've created. (PCBs are a special case where there's typically no room for elaborating on the licensing terms, and they often come without documentation.) If they do that they'd know that it's open source hardware anyway; no logo needed. If they weren’t interested in the first place, this logo pretty much means nothing.

At Boldport I create open source hardware by default. I'd like the two to be associated so eventually, perhaps already today, having both logos is somewhat redundant. I think that this is quite a common scenario.

I create very visual boards, and the use of every bit of board space is considered and valued. I no longer think that the logo is worth even the distraction it takes from other features of the design.

There you have it. Now tell me how I'm full of shit.