Non-commercial use licensing?

I want to make the design and software of a device I have developed freely and openly available, particularly for the wildlife research sector. I spent a lot of time on it, and field-tested the result over 4 years. As an experienced wildlife researcher, I know that it will be valuable to others, as well as to others in non-wildlife fields.

I learned pretty much all I know about small electronic gadgets from this forum, and at key moments when stuck I was helped by one or two individuals who generously gave their time and advice. In that spirit, I have prepared a paper to submit for publication in a wildlife research journal. It feels like payback time.

However, I have qualms about some commercial concern being able to take this gift and make money with it.
Is there a way to make the code freely available but only for non-commercial use? I note that all the licence options listed on GitHub allow commercial use.

Thanks in anticipation.

Have a look at Multi-licensing but if this is really a concern, you’ll need a lawyer assistance and they don’t come cheap...

Picking a contaminating license like LGPL V3 won’t prevent commercial (ab)use but will get lawyers of the company to think twice about what they do with the code and their business plan.

Many thanks. That Wikipedia article has led me into lots of concepts I was happily ignorant about. I can't believe how complicated it is.

Are you aware of any other Arduino-derived projects that have tried to stifle commercial use? I would have expected it to be quite a common concern.

Is there anything patent worthy in the work you did?

I don’t know of any arduino stuff that made it big and I’m not aware of anything significant in open source world that did not require major investments from whoever wanted to run a business with it.

If I were you I would have a look at the commercial market opportunity and try to guesstimate the amount of money someone would need to invest to transform whatever you have into a successful commercial product. You’d be surprised how much it takes to get a prototype to market. Usually it’s a complete rewrite and re-engineering of the initial thingy.

If the numbers don’t add up, then I would publish first to get recognition and prior art out there in the public in as many places possible and then only not worry much and just get it out under LGPL V3

However, I have qualms about some commercial concern being able to take this gift and make money with it.
Is there a way to make the code freely available but only for non-commercial use? I note that all the licence options listed on GitHub allow commercial use.

Why do you have such qualms? Even if someone did what you fear under an Open Source license allowing commercial use, that doesn't make your work unavailable for others to adopt non-commercially. The commercial users would be unable to prevent it.

" I have qualms about some commercial concern being able to take this gift and make money with it."

Why? Its not like you didn't want to create it. Think of it like your kid did well in life and be proud and happy.

I put a clause in most of my licenses that if they use it, and we meet up, they should buy me a cheeseburger. Others put in a beer clause, but I just don't really care that much for beer.

-jim lee

Thanks, wise advice, which I am very much in tune with. There's nothing patentable in this. It's a simple standalone RFID reader/logger for small tagged animals. Any decent electronics engineer could have designed it in a week, I imagine. I have no interest in commercial exploitation; and even if I did, I know from other projects that protecting a patent is extremely costly and is often unsuccessful (although the lawyers still get paid).

The history probably best explains my attitude. When I started down this line in 2015 (out of need in my wildlife research job), I went to the specialist RFID companies. They wanted to sell me off-the-shelf kit that didn't meet my requirements and couldn't be adapted either to my initial need or to changing needs. They were very reticent with their knowledge (I suppose that's understandable) so that it appeared like a dark art. Only one company was willing to consider making a custom device, and gave me a rough quote of £3,000 per unit, assuming purchase of 100 units (which was what I needed), and "if it was possible at all": so £300,000 plus consumables just to buy the research equipment. Since then, a recent startup company has launched a device that almost does what I wanted, but cannot be developed by the user, and costs just under £400 per unit. That's more reasonable, but even £40,000 is a year's research budget for many wildlife research projects including staff costs.

I had read about Arduinos, the idea of designing gadgets appealed to me, and I was prepared to puzzle it out. In the end, my device works out at £50 per unit (plus construction time), can be made on the kitchen table, and can be tweaked or developed by anyone prepared to learn like I was. It also uses very inexpensive tags. I thought it through carefully so it does exactly what was needed. Of course I haven't costed in my learning and development time, but over 4 years these gadgets have stood out in all weathers and sucked in just over a million items of data that were impossible to get in any other way, so I reckon we are quids-in. Pride in the device doesn't figure for me, it's the data and what we have learned from it that makes me happy.

So I suppose my attitude is anti-commercial in that I resent being overcharged for something that isn't actually very difficult. I want to share the knowledge so that others can use it or build on it to do more worthwhile science. I hope they will, and that this will make them more independent of specialist suppliers. I have nothing against the latter, but I really want to avoid making them a gift they haven't earned.

Does that seem reasonable? Or is it excessively Robin Hood?

I think I could use quite a few beers, though.

Does that seem reasonable?

Not really. I think selling a commercial product that has a BOM cost of 50 for a price of 400 is quite reasonable. Consider the other expenses that have to be covered by that sale price: … amortizing R&D expenses, capital equipment to build the product in volume, employee salaries & benefits, rent, utilities, insurance, complying with regulatory requirements, taxes … it goes on and on. Plus, the whole point of being in business is to make a profit after all of that.

Of course, it's your IP and you have every right to do with it what you want. Perhaps other researchers who are so inclined would be interested in using it to build units from scratch. But, I'd guess not many.

I understand why you'd be in need of a beer.

I've done the product thing a few times, an it can be a bloody nightmare! Customers can and will cause you to pull out your hair. I got so frustrated with high tech customers that at one point I switched over to making and selling chocolate candies. (I figured that anyone can understand what to do with chocolate.) The customers were much easier to deal with, but the profit margin was terribly low.

When the guy told you a steep price to develop your product, what he was actually telling you was that he wasn't interested in the project. I'd not worry about them stealing your idea. The prototype is the easy part. Its everything else that kills the deal.

-jim lee

Given that it's the data and the research you're interested in, I would argue that it would actually be a good thing if some company started producing and selling devices like this. If your work helps them to keep some of the costs down, they might be able to do it for a lower price than existing alternatives, or simply make it more accessible to researchers who don't have the necessary skills/time to make it their DIY project.

If you choose a copyleft license, companies that use your software in their products will have to publish their own modifications and improvements. Having a professional team with money improve your software wouldn't be a bad thing.

That might not be very likely, though, as many companies avoid copyleft licenses. But even if the open-source license would be a reason for a company not to use your software, it's probably a good thing if you don't want that company profiting off your work without giving anything in return.


Yeh, OK, I guess I do have mixed-up feelings. Actually I do understand about the business side, and all those extra costs. I also understand the problem of irreversibly pinning down the customer's requirement. I don't mean to paint the specialist suppliers as bad guys, just I don't feel part of their enterprise.

From the researcher's POV, though, it is frustrating. The main market for RFID in animals is veterinary, which is Big Money. In comparison, wildlife research is an almost non-existent market for RFID products, and cannot be worth anyone in business spending much time on. As a result, we couldn't what we needed at an affordable price, and we couldn't be in control of its development. Only now I can make that happen, for that small minority of researchers who do have the drive to do build their own kit, or to befriend someone who can use a soldering iron. Those with more vision get a fair-sized stepping stone and may feel encouraged to develop the thing further. From inside this small research community something like this can feel like a big helping hand.

I take the points that this probably not of commercial interest; and that if it was then that could be a good thing for the research world. I will get this thing submitted and hope that the benefit is felt where intended.

Thanks all.

Document it and make it very accessible on the internet. You've already accomplished your main purpose, it seems to me - freeing the (apparently lightweight) IP that the commercial companies were hiding behind the curtain. Then you've made it available to your specialist community and the commercial companies can't shut you down unless they can prove that you reverse engineered their product.

But you should licence it under some FOS umbrella, so they can't seize the rights and lock you out. They can still use it, but they would then find it hard to justify the exorbitant prices that have you so incensed.

By the way, I don't recommend using the soldering iron on the kitchen table. There are safety concerns about that.

However, I have qualms about some commercial concern being able to take this gift and make money with it.
Is there a way to make the code freely available but only for non-commercial use?

I am just here to encourage you to give freely without limiting the use of your gift. I believe it is the right thing to do.

Also, what do you want to do when somebody infringes on your copyright? Are you willing to go to court with some company or do you want to continue your research?

Good luck with your wildlife projects.

This topic was automatically closed 120 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.