Open source Project / Hardware

Hello, My Friends.

It's my first time discussing about a open source project/hardware and I'd like understand how it works, it means, if I create a tool, machine, device using Arduino, what do I have to do related with commercial or legal aspects?

I've been working with open source software and tools, but never with a hardware component.

My e-mail address is

Thanks for any help. :wink:

The hardware is under a creative commons license but I'm unclear how the IDE is licensed nor how that effects the resulting binaries. I'm also unsure of the boot loaders license.

The Creative Commons license seems allow selling it as long as you give the buyer the same rights you had to the hardware.

I am unclear if this means you must share source code or only have to give the binary program.

This is a good question.

Hello, My Friends.

It's my first time discussing about a open source project/hardware and I'd like understand how it works, it means, if I create a tool, machine, device using Arduino, what do I have to do related with commercial or legal aspects?

I've been working with open source software and tools, but never with a hardware component.

My e-mail address is

Thanks for any help. :wink:


Thanks for your help.

As I told before, it's clear how it works with software, but not with hardware.

But after some research in Arduino hardware, and also in others studyboards, I realize that I don't need use the same structure (project) used by Arduino because it's more complex then my requirements.

Anyway, thanks for your help. :smiley:


To provide a bit more information in case anyone is curious: the IDE itself is licensed under the GPL, while the Arduino libraries that your sketch is linked against are licensed under the LGPL. This means that if you make and distribute changes to the IDE or the libraries, you need to also share the source code to those changes. You do not, however, have to share the source code of your programs.

hi Mellis,

what about the hardware? it is an interesting kind of grey zone as only the designs for Arduino are released under the CC license.
For example, is the current NG board and its production files, as produced by PCB Europe, proprietary or open? I was always curious about this question. It would be good to clarify it as people are sometimes asking for the files ( as in another recent post on the forum), but there is rarely a response on this.


edit: I ask this because i have noticed that the current PCB production files for things like the Arduino NG, the mini, the Arduino BT are never released or available while the boards are shipping. If you check the hardware page, the provided files are always the older, out-of-distribution designs. This may be OK, but it would be good to clarify it, as the Arduino project is generically publicized as an "open-source" project where one is sometimes encouraged to "build your own", however this is impossible under the current design unless you design the PCB yourself, or reverse-engineer what has been already done. So I guess the simple question is why are the production files for currently shipping boards never made available? And I ask that as a great Arduino supporter, not to be a pain in the ass :slight_smile:

I've also been wondering if the "open source hardware" idea has been modified. Now "Diecimila" is out (with no cad files), and the NG cad files aren't yet released either. I mean, clearly not all hardware implementations have to be "open source" for the project as a whole to be open source, but some clarification of where things stand would be nice.

I can't speak for the whole team here, but I can say that we think this is a very important question and one that we put a lot of thought into. I hope that we'll be able to create and publish an "official" general description of what we mean by open-hardware and how we go about creating it. Sorry I don't have a better answer for you right now, but it's not an easy question.

I'm also wondering about the state of an open hardware approach. The well written arduino paper for the chi 07 conference in march (it's in the news archive) gave me the impression, that arduino is still an open project from any perspective. So I thought updated cad files would follow some day...

What's the real problem with showing the electric board designs? I really can't imagine that anyone would try to make cheaper boards from the files. But I guess that many would like to learn, adopt and shurly feed their own board designs back to all. I know by myself, that board layout is hard work, but there's also the arduino software, which is completley released and probably much more work.
Why differentiate and treat them different?


I think the new blog will be where we'll hear about the answer to this question, perhaps?

Under the (excellent) Arduino team's direction, Arduino has matured so far and so quickly that it is perhaps time to clarify the finer points: the trademark, the hardware production files etc.

While "rules" are hard to find and even harder to write for open source hardware projects, there is this open-source definition published by OSI, the Open Source Initiative. On their site they call themselves the "stewards of the Open Source Definition (OSD) and the community-recognized body for reviewing and approving licenses as OSD-conformant."

In their definition of Open-source, they say:

"Open source doesn't just mean access to the source code. The distribution terms of open-source software must comply with the following criteria:

  1. Free Redistribution. The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. "

Further on, they say this about prohibiting commercial uses of the "open-source" design:

  1. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
    The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

Arduino's design is indeed open, and it has been from the beginning promoted as an "open-source" project. But it's production files, a key part of the project, are closed, and users are prohibited from personal or commercial use of the currently shipping models by virtue of their lack of access to those files.

I'm not saying it wasn't a good strategy to do it this way. It has really served its purpose, by funneling some resources into the concerted and intense work the team has done on the project.

What I am saying is that now that the project has made over 10,000 boards, is it perhaps time to have a community discussion about what's open and what's not. It would be productive on many levels, and it might clarify the current license murkiness. If the current hardware is to remain closed and attached to one manufacturer (and let me say here he's a terrific manufactuer and also a good person :slight_smile: ), then I wonder what kind of model that is...

And finally, if trademarks ( the new Diecimila is sporting a "TM" on the Arduino name) are to be used to protect this manufacturing advantage that has propelled to project to this point, what does this mean to the hundreds of people who have contributed to the project?

I'm not proposing any answers in this post, just lots and lots of questions, in the hopes that we can have a community-based discussion about this, rather than one that is just team-based.


edit: fixed the link to the blog, and added link to the OSI open-source definition; added point 8 of OSI definition.

I forgot to add this to my very long post!

The Arudino site says two different things about licenses for the Arduino.

All uses OK
The main page says, and has said for a long time, that the design is licensed for however you'd like to use it:
"Note: The reference designs for Arduino are distributed under a Creative Commons license Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5"
The hardware versions page also says the same thing.

Commercial use not OK
Another page, for the serial single-sided board, had this added to it in 2006:
"Note: The reference designs for Arduino are distributed under a Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5"

I point this out as an example of how several different messages about the open-source nature of the project are being given: in this case literally!

It's probably a good idea to fix these mixed messages, to clarify what the licenses are, how open they are, and the rationale behind any changes.


Edit: bearing in mind that we're just talking about the designs here, this is what the Creative Commons web site says about revoking one license and substituting another:

What if I change my mind?

Creative Commons licenses are non-revocable. This means that you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license. You can stop distributing your work under a Creative Commons license at any time you wish; but this will not withdraw any copies of your work that already exist under a Creative Commons license from circulation, be they verbatim copies, copies included in collective works and/or adaptations of your work. So you need to think carefully when choosing a Creative Commons license to make sure that you are happy for people to be using your work consistent with the terms of the license, even if you later stop distributing your work.

This seems to say that the Arduino reference designs continue to be under the CC 2.5 license ( attribution-share alike), since you can't change to a more restrictive license mid-stream.

So, what's the deal? :slight_smile: Has the license been changed to a "non-commercial one"? If it has, that change would seem irrelevant by the above conditions of the original license. Everything should be open, and indeed it seems to be open without restriction, at least on paper, just as the original license says.

Hi Daniel and everyone,

There is indeed a need to have a good discussion around these issues, and it was definitely one of the reasons for the creation of the new blog. I used my presentation slot at Sketching in Hardware to talk about these very questions, and we had a rousing conversation that I'm still trying to digest.

I do want to clarify one point about the licenses, however. The files were originally released under the CC share-alike, non-commercial license. After some internal discussion, we came around to the FSF and OSI point-of-view and dropped the non-commercial restriction. Apparently, we forgot to update the page for the single-sided serial board. That was an oversight that I've just fixed.

We would certainly like to have a broader public discussion about what we mean by open-hardware, etc. We just need to get our act together and find some agreement internally about how we'd like to go about it. Keep an eye on the blog for updates.

HI David:

it's great that you plan a discussion of these important issues.

I think it's very important to point out here, especially in light of what you say above, that the production files ( eagle, Gerber etc.) of the Arduino NG, Arduino Mini, Arduino mini USB adapter, Arduino Bletooth, and the Arduino Diecimila have not been released.

These files are being effectively held back as proprietary information, and not released as open-source, share-alike files as the project advertises itself to be.

Under the Creative Commons license share-alike that has been used to release the Arduino design, holding back files from the rest of the community, as is the current policy, is really not justifiable for any reason.


Hi Y'all,

Daniel is welcome to his opinions - that's cool.
However, i don't think i am ready to expect all aspects of the Arduino project to be "Open". My goals and ambitions are adequately served by the current policy of keeping the hardware information private. It won't be terribly hard to design and implement a uC using an ATMega168 and the information from this manufacturer. That's the path one would follow if you were making something in great numbers for yourself.
Using the Arduino is super nice right now because the team at Arduino have taken the extra step of making everything super easy for brainless clods like myself. That's the cache i would like to see maintained into the future.
If the fine folks at Arduino want to use hardware sales as the manner in which to support this board, the main web page and future improvements - then i'm okay with that. On the other hand, buying and using something made in a slipshod manner by some fly-by-night wouldn't be where i want to go.
Maybe it's brand loyalty and i'm being old fashioned. But this is certainly a good tool for what i need right now.


I don't think that ALL implementations of the hardware have to open in order for the project to have "open source hardware." You just need a "core" of implementations that are fully published (and you can't let the unpublished version drift too far from the core.) For instance, I have no problem whatsoever with the fact that third party vendors ("Modern Device Company", "Lady Ada") don't publish full CAD files, but they ARE listed and described as third parties. I'm not sure that it's important that all the "true" arduino hardware be open, but I WOULD like clarification along the lines of "we're going to open the diecimila but we haven't gotten around to it" OR "diecimila is a commercial project based on the arduino reference design and we aren't planning on ever releasing the CAD files for it."

Hi folks,
here's just my personal view of the whole thing:
For me hardware is considered to be open source, when there is a publicly available schematic, and the whole thing uses only electronic components that are freely available (i.e. no vendor specific GAL's or EPROM's needed).

If I had to make a living of the project (or at least want to achieve a return of the expenses I have) I would not give out the production files for the pcbs. Assuming the arduino-hardware is just there,on your desktop, I guess nobody will stop you from coping it. It just takes some effort.

Ok, what about this idea:
I write some cute application and sell it for money. I also open-source the code in a BOOK !??. I would consider this open source software.
But other people might complain : Why isn't the code available as a download, do expect me to type the whole book into the editor myself ???

Now I'll get a bit OffTopic but here is the actual reason why I made this reply:

Made In Italy
Note [from massimo]:We stress the fact that all the boards are made in italy because in this globalised world, were getting the lowest possible price for products sometimes translates into poor pay and working conditions for the people who make them, at least you know that who made your board was reasonably paid and worked in a safe environment.

I am very happy that I can buy a product from people who care about these things.

Give out the gerberfiles and you have some chinese company selling PCB's for much lower $'s just because they:
don't give a sh*t about environmental issuses;
throw people into jail if they complain about being intoxicated by the PCB-production-site;
pay their workers 40 cent's an hour and let them slave for 72 hours a week;

No thank you! Keep you production files secret !
But thanks for the schematics and the whole arduino-universe !!

Eberhard Fahle

Well, as I said before, I don't see cheap arduino boards flooding the market, as a result of production files beeing released. The arduino boards aren't expensive, I guess anyone knows that by now. Even the bluetooth board's pricing is fair (is there someone who found a single pice Bluegiga WT11 chip vendor selling not exclusively to business people?, I couldn't...).
I'm quite shure the arduino creators don't make much money out of selling the boards, just because there is not much room for profit. The very few people, trying to get some cheaper boards form china would shurly discover high shipping costs and other problems. At least as long as the demand for arduino boards is below typical consumer electronics distribution volumes... :wink:

Also there are so many Arduino-like boards (I'm speaking of the ones with just an ATmega 8 chip), so no one can really speak about intellectual porperty, that has to be hidden for the sake of making profit.
For me it's more a question on principle.
As a community member, I'd just feel better if the hardware is handled like the very same as the software is.
Concerning the ardunio clone/alternative board builders (the ones created for use with the Arduino IDE), I can - at the moment - see reason for not publishing their complete cad files.
Why should they do it, if the core project has no clear opinion and is enventually not releasing all files?

p.s. of cources I'm also a supporter of local production. I just say realeasing the files would most probably not hurt there.

Hi all

I'm so glad to se a discussion of these important issues, and I hope everyone makes a post! Jump in if you're afraid, we won't bite.

FYI, my question is based in principle: hardware should be open for it to proliferate. I'm not trying to go 'against' the Arduino team in asking this, in fact i talk to them often and they are really terrific people who I have enormous respect for: they have done an amazing thing in having the guts, drive and commitment to bring Arduino to where it is.

Ultimately what scares me about keeping the files closed are two things.

The first is that using the rhetoric of "open source" to build a huge ( 10,000 + and counting) community, but not letting the hardware be really open. I find this deceptive. It's also against the license it was issued under: the gerber files, etc, are derivatives of the schematics, and derivatives must be licensed and shared in the same way. This is important to follow on principle: what if the Linux and Ubuntu people had said: "hey, don't sell any copies of that software-- we'll do the selling?" Obviously they wouldn't be where they are.

The second is that under the above, we're ending up supporting a sole manufacturer. This makes part of the project a commercial enterprise. The project would have to watch out for the commercial interests of it's manufacturer, and I think, at this point, the those are conflicting interests. (That said, Gianluca is really a fantastic guy and a terrific manufacturer! He had a lot of guts to support this project from the inception with risky, expensive production runs.)

Finally, I don't think anyone should worry about low-quality Arduinos being the result of open files. This Arduino copy looks like pretty good quality, don't you think? Slide34 | Libertarian vs. Liberal: Arduino is using a model … | Flickr

Re: offshore manufacturing, a very large percentage of the Arudino's components are manufactured in China: almost all electronic components are made there now. So are most of the consumer electronic goods you buy. that Ipod? Made in taiwan from Chinese parts. Conditions are not as described in a previous post (you might check with some of our China-based Arduino contributors and forum readers to confirm this). For one thing, you can't make .006 tolerance PCB's or Atmega processors in poor conditions.

I do think there has to be a hardware standard, there have to be quality controls, there has to be consistency, as previous posters note.

Trademarks licensing seems like the way to go, what do you guys think of that? Allowing others to make boards, but under license and subject to the standard design that the team has produced. This would promote price competition. ( production costs for an Arduino are around $10 USD by my estimate-- the other $22 is manufacturer and distributor profit) The license could stipulate a maximum price, since accessibility is a key component of the project. The license could stipulate manufacturing and functionality standards. Manufacturers would pay a royalty per board ($3?), and this would go back to the Arduino foundation to pay for future designs and prototypes, the web site, forum etc.

Just a few thoughts, I hope people won't be afraid to chime in here with their point of view. It's an important discussion.


edit: fixed my usual typos.

There are a lot of more important issues to work out here, but I did want to clarify one small point. The creators of a work are not bound by the terms under which they license it to others. That is, just because someone releases something under a share-alike license (e.g. the GPL) does not mean that they are required to release all derivatives that they create under the same license. MySQL, for example, takes advantage of this by releasing their code under the GPL but also selling commercial licenses to those who wish to keep their derivative works proprietary. You may not agree with the spirit of this approach, but it is permitted by copyright and the licenses.


even if that is indeed the case, the original license that allows production files to be released by others is still out there. The original license means there are no restrictions, commercial or otherwise (just attribution, share-alike, and non-use of the Arudino trademark and look) on someone drawing up the Diecimila design themselves and reproducing it...

But you know, what you're saying in your post is that there are indeed two licenses: one for the community and one for the creators. This should be made clear on the site.

I don't think we should be so worried about this manufacturing advantage: Sparkfun are the only people who've tried it, and by their good graces they recognized that the project's success is dependent on trust and collaboration. I'm thinking other poeple should be let into that ring of trust :slight_smile:

I also have to ask, if, as you say, the Arudino team is "not bound by the terms under which they license to others", then what is it they're actually offering to release as the basis of this open-source project? Just the schematics?


It doesn't mean that there's no license for the community and one for the creators. It means that there's one license for the community and no license for the creators - they don't need, it's their work.

Anyway, that's not the point. There are many good arguments to be made for opening up more of the project than we already have, and we need to consider them seriously. I'd just rather we didn't get distracted by a technical argument that's not even valid. We're better off discussing the overall goals and principles of the project and how it can best achieve those goals while following those principles.

Again, we've had many internal discussions about this issue and I'm hoping that we will continue to reconsider our position. At the moment, however, two members of the team are on vacation, and in any case, deciding this sort of overall strategy will take some time and effort. Certainly this is a valuable discussion and I hope everyone continues to weigh in with their opinions, but please be patient with us as we figure out the best way to respond.