CERN Updates Its Open Hardware License, Launches Three Reciprocal and Permissive Variants

New license also better covers projects including ASIC and FPGA design, and can even be correctly applied to software.

CERN-OHL v2.0 is now available for use. (📷: Sam Smith/CERN)

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has officially unveiled version 2.0 of its Open Hardware License (CERN-OHL) — and it comes split into three variants depending on how important you find reciprocation.

"The CERN-OHL is to hardware what the free and open source licenses are to software," says CERN legal advisor and co-author of the CERN-OHL Myriam Ayass. "It defines the conditions under which a licensee will be able to use or modify the licensed material. It shares the same principles as free software or open-source software: anyone should be able to see the source — the design documentation in the case of hardware — study it, modify it and share it."

"Open hardware gives designers and users the freedom to share hardware designs, modify them, manufacture products based on the design files and commercialise those products," adds Open Hardware Repository founder and CERN engineer Javier Serrano. "This freedom enables collaboration among engineers, scientists, researchers, hobbyists and companies without the risk of vendor lock-in or other issues present in proprietary development."

Building on the original CERN-OHL, released nine years ago, CERN-OHL v2.0 splits the license into three variants. The first two are designed to require strong and weak reciprocation: Any derivative project, product, or modification must be licensed under the same terms. The third variant is more permissive, and does not require reciprocation.

Other tweaks to the license include making it more applicable to projects including application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) — and it is now applicable to software, though whether it will supplant existing software-specific licenses remains to be seen.

The announcement comes as OSHdata releases its first annual State of Open Source Hardware report, which found that the majority of open hardware projects seeking certification from the Open Source Hardware Association do so using licenses other than the OSHWA-recommended CERN-OHL or TAPR — something the release of CERN-OHL v2.0 may address.

CERN-OHL v2.0 is now available, and has been submitted to the Open Source Initiative and Free Software Foundation for endorsement.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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