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Open hardware should not be a strategy to overcome licensing

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Developing hardware is time and money-consuming. In many academic settings, the costs of developing hardware (also open hardware) are absorbed by funding agencies, universities, etc. (see who assumes the risk while doing research). If a project can be transformed into a business, it normally goes through the process of technology transfer, in which licensing agreements are signed between different parties.

With open hardware (or open source, for the matter), the discussion is much more convoluted. Once something is openly licensed and anyone can build and sell it, there's the potential for a big conflict. Is it fair that an individual or a company profits exclusively from the result of the public investment? At what stage is it decided that something can be released openly, and who gets a say on the royalties that a product can generate?

It is not only a matter of legality, but of morality. Technology transfer is a process that already generates some controversies (see, for example: measure the success of technology transfer from universities by using the total number of patents, licenses and spin-offs). Adding the extra dimension of being able to circumvent cash flow towards the institutions that absorbed the initial risk under the shield of a seemingly morally correct umbrella is, at least, something that the academic community should discuss at length.


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