CERN Open Hardware License approved by OSI

You may soon see the CERN Open Hardware License as a choice the next time you create a repo on GitHub:

A dedicated licence for open-source hardware: CERN OHL approved by OSI

The OSI (Open Source Intitiative) has approved version 2 of CERN’s Open Hardware License (OHL), meaning it conforms to its Open Source Definition and respects the ideals and ethos of the movement.

Geneva-based CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) says it has an open-source culture. “Our main mandate at CERN is to conduct basic research. But there is a lesser-known part of our mandate, which is to make things that we do available for the public… very often these are engineering things that we develop,” Javier Serrano, head of the hardware and timing section, Beam Controls Group, told The Register.

The desire to share hardware designs publicly led to the creation of the OHL, for which version 2.0 was released last year. But why not use existing licences like GPL, MIT or Apache 2.0?

“There were no adequate open-source licences that we could rely on to share our hardware designs,” said Serrano.

In hardware, working with commercial companies is a necessity, because “you need somebody who’s going to manufacture it, assemble it to test and sell it to you,” he said. “Companies don’t like the legal risk, so there was a need for a licence to bring clarity as to what the conditions would be.”

CERN ended up with three variants. There is a strong reciprocal licence (CERN-OHL-S), which is for designs that remain free along with all their derivatives, a copyleft principle similar to GPL.

There is a weak reciprocal licence where the design can be used as a component in other designs without the whole becoming open source, but if the design of the component is modified, that must be shared back (CERN-OHL-W). And there is a permissive licence, CERN-OHL-P, which lets users mix the design freely with proprietary designs provided it is acknowledged, similar to Apache 2.0 in the software world.

CERN Open Hardware License approved by OSI

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