Could they have patented the Arduino designs?

I'm working on a few electronic curriculum and adding some Arduino sections. After building some of my own boards, it occurred to me that the official Arduino boards might not be patentable in the first place, which might help to explain why they decided to go open-source. I'm curious if there has been anything published or discussed on online about this.

My point is, if they use the ATMega, FTDI, etc., etc. Can you get a patent on just the board design? Is that common in the hardware world? I guess it would be a motherboard design, the same as Dell, IBM, etc. Could Arduino have chosen to get patents on the boards? I guess it would really depend on the patent offices accepting them.

What about the software? Since they are using a C/C++ compiler to write out machine language for the ATMega, could that compiler have been patented? Since they based the compiler on the AVR programmer, could they have chosen to get a patent on the Arduino C compiler?

Not that it matters, just curious about this and how this has been playing out in the new open-source world. Wondering if this open-source approach has been a good model for other companies to follow on. I'm also wondering if another company can come in and create their own board designs based on the ATMega chip, which would allow you to use Arduino to program it, could they then patent the design? Has that been done by anyone? It would seem that if these board designs are patentable, someone would have patent a few of their own as well.

Just trying to play this out in my head and think it through, as I don't want to explain all of this incorrectly in my curriculum. Hoping others might know the answers to some of this.

  • Arduino is not only AVR anymore. most new boards use ARM based microcontrollers
  • for AVR boards they use avr-gcc, which is open source.
  • for ARM based boards they use gcc for ARM. it is open-source too
  • they use open source uploaders (and debuggers)
  • the Arduino IDE, core API, ino format and builder (ino to cpp) are original Arduino
  • there many Arduino compatible boards not designed by Arduino. most notable are Teensy and Adafruit boards

Ask a lawyer. Most likely you'll end up with a obscure view of the world - and the realisation, whatever patent is involved, most likely the lawyer will profit.

zwieblum:
Ask a lawyer. Most likely you’ll end up with a obscure view of the world - and the realisation, whatever patent is involved, most likely the lawyer will profit.

You got there before me.

And not just any old lawyer - a patent lawyer.

Also, having a patent is little value unless you have the $tens of thousands to pay the legal fees to challenge someone who is breaching your patent.

…R

zwieblum:
Ask a lawyer. Most likely you'll end up with a obscure view of the world - and the realisation, whatever patent is involved, most likely the lawyer will profit.

Yeah, that is sort of what I was getting at. Maybe Arduino worked through this same sort of logic early on and decide it would be better to just go open source. I'm finding it hard to answer the "Why?" question. Just curious if anyone knows if they have ever said how they thought through the process. I've only ever read that they decided to go open source, they just never mention exactly why. They still use "officially licensed" PCB manufacturers and down play the compatible boards. So I'm not really sure what the benefit is of making the boards open source. They are pretty simple and the ATMega chip is very common. So even without the board designs, anyone with any PCB design experience could figure it out in a few hours.

I worked on a project a few years ago, got investment funding, built the first version of the project, burned through about $5M, and started working on a patent (but not in that order). But then decided not to, as you have to publish your design and how it works. The only protection you have is you can go around the world taking everyone to court that violates it. And many countries don't have laws that protect you. Considering people stealing your design, we just decided to change our business from a product to a service and build out the service side, which is more profitable in the long run anyway... depending on your exit strategy.

Anyway, my point is that maybe more companies will or should take this approach. If it is just going to get stolen from you anyway, you have to publish your design to get a patent, etc. Maybe just short-circuiting it and going open-source makes more sense. Then considering how easy it is to build a board like this, etc. That just seems to be the only valid option... more so than wanting to support open source.

Just thinking out loud here. Trying to think through the "Why?" when trying to explain it an section on Arduino.

Juraj:

  • Arduino is not only AVR anymore. most new boards use ARM based microcontrollers
  • for AVR boards they use avr-gcc, which is open source.
  • for ARM based boards they use gcc for ARM. it is open-source too
  • they use open source uploaders (and debuggers)
  • the Arduino IDE, core API, ino format and builder (ino to cpp) are original Arduino
  • there many Arduino compatible boards not designed by Arduino. most notable are Teensy and Adafruit boards

I have not started working with any of the ARM based boards. I have seen a few tutorials that step you through building your own ARM boards, but not with anything Arduino. So I’d guess it would be pretty similar to this with Arduino?

At that point though, wouldn’t make more sense to just use the ARM IDE and compiler and not Arduino? Does Arduino really add much? Is it really that much easier?

Just trying to understand where Arduino really comes into play. I’d guess most engineers would skip Arduino and just use AVR-gcc or gcc or ARM? Where Arduino would be more for students and hobbyist?

jrothlander:
I have not started working with any of the ARM based boards. I have seen a few tutorials that step you through building your own ARM boards, but not with anything Arduino. So I'd guess it would be pretty similar to this with Arduino?

At that point though, wouldn't make more sense to just use the ARM IDE and compiler and not Arduino? Does Arduino really add much? Is it really that much easier?

Just trying to understand where Arduino really comes into play. I'd guess most engineers would skip Arduino and just use AVR-gcc or gcc or ARM? Where Arduino would be more for students and hobbyist?

yes. it is really that much easier.
I have this project which was why I started with Arduino. Without Arduino it would be much much more work. and it can run on AVR, SAMD, esp8266, nRF51, ...

I think there is more to Open Source than simply a counter-response to the complexities and costs of patents.

I think it represents the idea of a world in which people can share and help each other rather than compete and grow rich at the expense of others.

…R

Definitly. That's the reason why all goverments with conservative members deem it to be a work of communist satan.

Robin2:
I think there is more to Open Source than simply a counter-response to the complexities and costs of patents.

I think it represents the idea of a world in which people can share and help each other rather than compete and grow rich at the expense of others.

...R

Yeah, that is why the communist countries are so generous and the capitalistic ones are so greedy. And why in communist countries the standard of living is so much higher than capitalistic ones. Yeah, that's sarcasm, as we know that every stat for the last 100 years says it is just the opposite. But the idea of making money makes you greedy is a farce, as that would assume to make money you have to take it away from someone else. That might have been true in the past but it is not in our modern society.

There may be noble causes in open-source, but it if doesn't translate people being able to make an income and provide for their families, the causes is going to die. It's a nice idea, but I don't think it's really is just for some noble reason. Arduino's are pretty expensive and I am sure the owners are doing well. I think the model is just something different and it is easy to say you are doing it for the greater good. But in reality it is a marketing technique. I'm wondering why a company would think it through and chose this model.

Microsoft for example, has many open source products, even their C# compiler and Visual Studio IDE. But I wouldn't exactly say they are doing it for the greater good. I've been on the receiving end of when they offer to buy you out and you realize they are just milking little companies for information and ideas. The same with Apple. Apple didn't give away all of those computers in the '80s because they wanted to help schools. They wanted 15 million kids to go home and tell their parents to buy one. It was cheaper to give them away than buy ads.

Yeah, this sounds a bit negative, but that is not my intent. I really do like the idea of helping out people and the community and think it would be great to build a business around an open source product like Arduino has done. But there has to be a reason where the rubber meets the road, something practical that makes it work better than making everything propriety. Making word-of-mouth advertising the community is enough.

all mentioned companies started small and without big plans and evolved they business goals and strategy over time. nobody outlined a plan how to get rich.

jrothlander:
Yeah, that is why the communist countries are so generous and the capitalistic ones are so greedy. And why in communist countries the standard of living is so much higher than capitalistic ones. Yeah, that's sarcasm, as we know that every stat for the last 100 years says it is just the opposite. But the idea of making money makes you greedy is a farce, as that would assume to make money you have to take it away from someone else. That might have been true in the past but it is not in our modern society.

Just because communist countries faced particular problems does not mean that capitalist countries are utopia.

There is a big difference between making enough money to feed, clothe and house yourself and making millions. If a $10,000 car can take you where you want to go, why should anyone need a $30,000 car?

Earning money may not make people greedy - but the capitalist "dream" encourages the greed in greedy people - borrow now, buy a new car and make your neighbour green with envy.

Open Source software isn't "free" as people have to give up their time to create it. The idea is that that they share their time for their mutual benefit. Just the same as a person growing potatoes might swap some with a neighbour who grows cabbages.

...R

+1

And do not forget: there are no communist countries any more. And there is no such thing as democracy. If you don't believe me, step back and look at your own country (whatever that may be).

Robin2:
Just because communist countries faced particular problems does not mean that capitalist countries are utopia.

There is a big difference between making enough money to feed, clothe and house yourself and making millions. If a $10,000 car can take you where you want to go, why should anyone need a $30,000 car?

Earning money may not make people greedy - but the capitalist "dream" encourages the greed in greedy people - borrow now, buy a new car and make your neighbour green with envy.

Open Source software isn't "free" as people have to give up their time to create it. The idea is that that they share their time for their mutual benefit. Just the same as a person growing potatoes might swap some with a neighbour who grows cabbages.

...R

Yeah, that is an old and tired argument that failed 100 years ago the same as it is failing today. The mistake you are making is that people want to get rich because they are greedy. Most get rich because they are generous and use their money wisely. Every millionaire I know is extremely grateful and worked amazingly hard, sacrificed for years, and saved, saved, saved living well under their means for 20 to 30, years. To then turn around and say they are greedy, is just dishonest or ill-informed. Dave Ramsey did a MASSIVE study on this a few years ago and found that 90+% of people would fall into this category, earned a normal income, invested, saved, etc. and grew rich, about 4% inherited it, and the remaining just got lucky or built a business that did very well. That study, which is the best that has ever been done, doesn't seem to support your points.

Odd, all of the communist and socialist countries are ran by a supper rich elites off the backs of the poor. Why is that better? In a capitalist model you might have issues where people are controlled by greed, but that is not the model, that is just people. Those same people exist in either system.

I think the proof is really easy. Just show me someone that has escaped from a capitalist country to go to a communist country? I can dozens of friends that left communism, some illegally and risked their lives to get to the US. I have a friend that escape N. Vietnam after the communist took over, a couple of friends that left that USSR, a few from Iran, and many others. But oddly, I have yet to ever encounter a single person that did it the other way around.

The advantage of the capitalist model has been proven again and again and again. That's why the capitalist model in China's Hong Kong out produces communist China by a hundred folder per capita. Sure, it's getting better. But comparing the capitalist countries to communist and socialist counties are hands down in favor of capitalism. There's so much history, science, stats, etc. to prove this, that I find it interesting anyone would ever attempt to argue otherwise. But most of them are academics and you know what that means, they couldn't perform in the real world, so they have to teach.

Anyway, you get my point.

zwieblum:
+1

And do not forget: there are no communist countries any more. And there is no such thing as democracy. If you don’t believe me, step back and look at your own country (whatever that may be).

USA is a democratic republic of states. Democracy is the form of government we have implemented… in that it where the people exercise the authority of the government. But that is not a political system per say. Our political system is a democratic republic, where we elect representatives. It’s the only valid way to implement democracy because you cannot have every person vote on every thing. I think most of the world uses this approach.

And yes, communism still exists in China, Cuba, Loa, North Korea, and N. Vietnam, and probably others. It is where the state owns the means of production and ran by a single communist party. This isn’t anything debatable. It is well know and understood. I doubt any reasonable and educated person would debate this.

Dream on … USA is a dictatorship of the rich, ruled by the industrial-military-complex (look up the speach of Eisenhower, Jan. 17th 1961) . China is pure capitalism minus “free speach”. Europe is on the edge to turn into a industry dominated faschist oligarchy. Maybe Kuba is the last communist country left in this world. All the other … what is sold as communism is in fact faschism. Pick your master, slave.

I figured it out, why Arduino went open source. I just watched a video where Massimo explains why he took this approach. It was actually to protect Arduino. Since he was working for a school that was closing down, he was concerned they might make a claim to the product and shut it down and take it from him. So to make sure that did not happen, he made all of the designs open source.

This is what I was trying to explain and figure out, that there is a tension here between the Arudion trademark, boards, and open source, that has yet to be explained... at least to me. The origional motivation could not have been just to share the designs with the world, or they would not discourage compatible and cloned boards. They would actually be promoting them. But they don't. But why? The founders even fight among themselves for the rights to the trademark. That doesn't sound much like sharing.

But it all makes perfect sense in my mind, once you understand the story. Much more sense that they just wanted it all to be shared and open to the public, but then come down negative on anyone that then produces their own compatible board. The only way to logically align those is to say that the original reason was not purely to share everything and be happy, as it opens a can or worms to fakes, clones, and compatible competition, which is something they really do not want, which also explains the whole Arduino LLC, ORG, SRL, etc. fight.

I'm not say this is good or bad, just that it doesn't make sense unless you understand where it started from. It also gives us insight into if new business should or should not follow this model. That also gives you something to think about if you are building Arduino based products, boards, etc.

Just good information. Glad to have heard Massimo explain it. I feel much better now!

zwieblum:
Dream on ... USA is a dictatorship of the rich,

There is a lot of truth in that. But the powerful have figured out that letting us vote for a possible change of Government every few years pacifies the "people" sufficiently to prevent them from rising up and overthrowing the rich by sheer weight of numbers.

Democracy as we know it is far from perfect but I like all the other systems a great deal less.

...R

  1. there is nothing remotely patentable about the original arduino.
  2. you should read https://arduinohistory.github.io/

westfw:

  1. there is nothing remotely patentable about the original arduino.
  2. you should read https://arduinohistory.github.io/

Thanks for sending taking the time to post this. This answers my original question if the reason all of this is open source is really to share or if it is was forced on them because nothing here is patentable since all of the designs are based on other products. The answer is YES! But it that plus it is based on other open source products. And hence the issue with this business model, anyone can copy it from you as they please, and you can’t do anything about it. They only way to prosper seems to be in creating your brand/trademark.

I was wondering why Hernando Barragán was not apart of the Arduino product, when it was his thesis project. This answers that question! Since the open source license and ethics require giving credit where credit is due, I think Arduino at least owes that to Barragan. This is the sort of contradiction with Arduino that I keep running into. They claim they want to be open source, share everything, but then fight about the trademark and discredit anyone building clones or compatible boards. It just doesn’t all line up. They should at least be supporting the compatible markets if nothing else, as it grows the community. But I think I get it now. Since they basically took this from Barragan because it was open source, they now realize that anyone else could do the same, because nothing here is patentable or technically owned except the trademark. So the only real way to protect their business is to really focus hard on “licensed”, “original”, etc. and make the cloned and compatible markets look like something less respectable… which in my mind explains why they call then clones… when no one cloned anything… another thread I started here.

I found this insightful:

"For us at the beginning it was a specific need: we knew the school was closing and we were afraid that lawyers would show up one day and say - Everything here goes into a box and gets forgotten about. - So we thought - OK, if we open everything about this, then we can survive the closing of the school - So that was the first step.- Massimo Banzi, Arduino Documentary

This one is very special. It misleadingly presents the fact of making Arduino open source as the consequence of the school closing. This poses a question: why would a bunch of lawyers “put in a box” a project based on other open source projects? It is almost puerile. The problem is, common people might think this is true, forming altruistic reasons for the team to make Arduino open source."

Hernando’s explanation makes much more sense and fills in the questions I have been having. I did think that it was odd that if the school closed, they’d lose the project. I went through a similar product where I wrote a compiler and gave the rights to a company, which later closed. All that did was give me back the rights to the compiler, it didn’t box it up. But I figured they must have know something that I did notn. But the real reason is that it was already based on open source and nothing is actually patentable, which goes back to my original question and posting here.