I want to start an open source hardware project

I am wondering what I need to do to start an open source hardware project.  I created a github repository that I will start adding files to, but one thing I’m not sure about is what to put on my drawing title blocks.  I’m well versed in the standard “this document contains proprietary information and cannot be disclosed or duplicated without express consent from yada yada, copyright etc…”.  So, what is the open source equivalent?  And is that all that’s required to to make an invention open source?  Is there any other “registration process”?  Also, I’m lost at deciding what license to choose.  I realize most open source projects are software and the license language reflects that.  How does that translate to a hardware project?

thanks very much,



First off I would like to welcome you to the world of open source. There are a number of things to consider.

  •  What kind of license and rights do you want to give your users? I would start over https://opensource.org/licenses if your not sure but plan on giving maximum flexibility I would reccomend starting with an MIT or Apache 2 license. In regards to hardware vs software I have traditionally been on the more software side of the fence so I am not sure but I did find this that may be of some help: https://opensource.com/law/15/2/intro-open-hardware-licensing
  • Who are your users? Do you expect that you will do most of the coding, diagrams, documentation, etc for the forseeable future? Will users open up issues to report bugs, request feature enancements, etc
  • Assuming you want others to contribute to your open source project, how can you help make it easy for them? Include files such as a CONTRIBUTING.md, ISSUE_TEMPLATE.md, PULL_REQUEST_TEMPLATE.md, etc.
  • Regarding what makes it open source, that is something we have recently seen debates with the likes of elasticsearch, redis, mongo, and chef. I do not consider these projects to be open source anymore for a variety of reasons which have been debated many public forums, as my goal is not to start a religious debate I leave it at that. I personally find https://opensource.org/osd-annotated very helpful as its annotated with rationale rather than only the pure definition.
  • I would reccomend against forcing anyone to register to consume your open source project. It is reasonable to have some sort of Contributors License Agreement (CLA) or Developer Certificate of Origin (DCO) for contributors, it really depends on what you are looking to accomplish with it. If you are not sure I would encourage you to leave that out until you have a better grasp of your needs. There is a bit of debate on how meaningful this is. It certainly can get in the way of contrinuting but you must decide what is best for your project. A lot of this depends on what kinds of contributions you really want to recieve, what protections do you want, and what protections do you want to give your contributors. Here is a helpful comparison of each: https://opensource.com/article/18/3/cla-vs-dco-whats-difference 

I hope this helps even though its certainly more from a software perspective, likely someone with more hardware exposure in open source can shed more light. The more information you give the more meaningful advice can be given.  


Hi @madau3d,

If you have 15 minutes to spare, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0HOgcbtmws might be a good watch as an intro into open source hardware.

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Thank you for the thoughtful replies.  The video was very informative.

And sorry, I do realize that more specifics would be helpful.  Firstly, I currently have two ideas for “products” (if you will) that I’d like to release as open source projects.  My reasons are similar to what is mentioned in the video- the “Fortune and Glory” aspects.  I do not have the financial means to patent and attempt to bring my products to market.  One is a suspension apparatus for moving vehicles- I’ve tested prototypes on bicycles but it could also apply to motor vehicles.  To bring this product ot market would cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there’s a high risk that my invention would be licensed in a way that it would prohibit me from receiving any attribution for the design.  I have been working as a consultant to a firm to develop their own suspension apparatus, but I have also been using the data I’ve collected to develop my own technology.  There is nothing in my work contract that prohibits me from using data and knowledge for my own benefit.

I spent a fair bit of time looking at other mechanical open source projects online, and while a great many claim to be open source in some way or another, actually finding the CAD data for their work is darn near impossible.  The closest I’ve come is finding the pdf drawings for E3D’s 3d printer hot ends and extruders.  They simply have this statement on their drawings-

Does that statement automatically make it open source, legally protected under the GPL?  Or does posting the works on an opens source repository like GitHub “register” the work as open source?

Normal proprietary title blocks say something along the lines of this-

2019-09-17 07_39_42-SOLIDWORKS Professional 2015 x64 Edition - [Draw1 - Sheet1 _].png

It is my understanding that simply stating “copyright 2019 by me” doesn’t automatically make a work copyrighted.  Again, my understanding is that you must put copies of the works of art to by copyrighted in an envelope along with an application and your payment for whatever the copyright office fee is ($35 rings a bell), mail it in, and after they approve and register the work, only then is it copyrighted.  Is that correct?

Also, I realize it is frowned upon, but I will be doing my work in either ProEngineer (Creo whatever) or SolidWorks.  Those are the CAD packages I am most proficient in, and in my humble opinion, there are no open source parametric 3D CAD packages that have the tools and features required to do professional engineering work.  Feel free to disagree, but will not get into a debate over the validity of TinkerCAD or OpenSCAD as serious design tools.

Thanks again,


About the E3D-Online screenshot: Yes, a statement like that is granting you the rights granted by the GPL, version 3 or later.

Copyright law differs per country. In some countries everything you create is protected, in some countries it works differently. For gory details applicable to your locality, please contact a lawyer.

And open source creations don’t need to be created with open source software, it’s perfectly fine to use whatever you want.

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