Author Topic: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"  (Read 8025 times)

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Offline rhb

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For the creator of a complex OSHW product such as a DSO, the major barrier is getting from a working   prototype to a shipping product.  The engineering challenges alone are formidable.  Crowd funding can solve some of the basic economic challenges.  But the business aspects of forming a company are a huge distraction.  In addition, the lack of a track record for a new venture makes selling an expensive product such as a DSO difficult.

What is needed is a company which is set up to handle the business aspects of getting from a working prototype to a shipping crowd funded product, an "Introducer" with a proven track record of delivering.

By their nature OSHW products can only support the Creator and the Introducer for a brief period.  Once a design is successful the bulk of the profits go to the manufacturers and sellers.  The Creators  must make their money by creating and supporting products.  The Introducers by  introducing and providing manufacturing support in conjunction with the Creator.

This is actually how traditional businesses operate.  The design engineers create products which the manufacturing division produces for sale.  The engineering work is paid for by the manufacturing and sales divisions. Each division must make enough money to pay for staff and expenses.

OSHW splits the corporate monolith into design, introduction and manufacturing support, manufacturing and sales as separate business entities.

What is currently missing is a name brand introduction and manufacturing support company focused on OSHW products that bridges the gap between the creator and the manufacturer.  The Creator is freed to focus on the engineering  and the manufacturer gets brand recognition for their product.  While the design is OSHW and anyone can make it, only the manufacturers who pay the Introducer for manufacturing support can legally use the brand name.

Have Fun!
Reg
 

Offline OwO

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Usually the result of that is the developers make a pittance compared to what they could have made if they also manufactured and sold products themselves. I think what is needed instead is the infrastructure to make delivering a product doable in the first place. i.e. access to prototyping and manufacturing services. Decent logistics so that you can easily run an ecommerce operation.
Open source hardware in itself already means you make a pittance compared to what you could have made if you kept everything either secret or patent protected, so to make it work at all the developers really need to own the whole operation and take in all the profit, or have other sources of income. OwOComm exists only as a hobby operation, it's not a profitable scheme.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2020, 05:22:31 pm by OwO »
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Offline EEEnthusiast

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I am wondering if money could be made by making the hardware open but keeping the application software, firmware or FPGA code as closed. The manufacturers pay the creator a fee for using the software/firmware etc. Is this a workable model?

I am planning to open source the hardware design files for my power profiler tool ZS-2102-A and see where it goes. It takes a lot of time and money to get things into production and sales. I guess keeping the software as closed may be a way for hardware designers to make some money and a living out of their designs.
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Offline rhb

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It's a difficult conundrum.  Making the HW open but all the SW closed sort of defeats the purpose. 

I think making everything except FPGA bit streams open is probably a good compromise.  That gives users the ability to fix bugs and add features.

The model I suggested is based on the hit that Hugen has with his revisions of the nanoVNA.  He also sells consulting services to other manufacturers.

The fundamental problem is that putting a device on the market involves significant financial risk.  And if your interest is HW design, running a business is a distraction at best and a huge PITA at worst.

Have Fun!
Reg
 
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Offline EEEnthusiast

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I agree with you fully. Running a hardware company is a lot of cost upfront and pain.
Especially in these tough covid times, the supply chain is stuck and there are lot of uncertainties. By making the hardware open, my assumption is that a lot of small and medium manufacturers may take it up and manufacture it. This can save a lot of costs in shipment across countries, customs duties etc since the product is made very close to the customers. The only hope for the creator is that some one is willing to pay for the FPGA code or for the PC software. May be someone in China who can build the hardware for much cheaper would bundle my software along with it and sell. Don't know if this model will fly...
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Online T3sl4co1l

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I mean, you could hire the services of a turnkey design house, and open source the design files they produce (given they don't use anything not licensed for such).  But if you don't have six digits USD kicking around, you'll have a bit of an issue doing that.

To put it another way, you're basically asking some firm to solve your problems for you, with no payment, only the promise of royalties.  On the assumption that your product is worth anything at all.  Which most of the time it isn't.  By some orders of magnitude.

Maybe it's not quite that bad.  But there's a lot of people out there, making a lot of junk, and one-offs.  If I'm that firm, I have to be very, very picky about what I choose, what looks promising to invest our time in.  And then we look mean because we're rejecting all these great ideas the community has.  Heh, true, there's a marketable way to turn that around: have the community, and social media, vote on prospective products -- let cool things percolate up, in the same way that any other recommended image/video/article does these days.  But we still have to sort it ourselves by practicality, because most of those "cool" things are going to be cute art projects with no actual production value, or bullshit scams that are physically impossible.  All of which we've seen play out, time and again, on Kickstarter and the like.

Which, really, is what we've basically become, with a different financial model.  I'd say they've done it better, as people put their money where their vote is, and who cares if anyone actually makes a thing?  (Uh, give or take how and when the funds are actually disbursed, I forget.  And there's other platforms with variations on that, so take your pick.)

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« Last Edit: July 21, 2020, 02:01:01 pm by T3sl4co1l »
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Offline OwO

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Maybe it's not quite that bad.  But there's a lot of people out there, making a lot of junk, and one-offs.  If I'm that firm, I have to be very, very picky about what I choose, what looks promising to invest our time in. 
Very much true. We are a design contractor that will design open source hardware, but we are highly selective about what projects we take on even if paid. If unpaid, the project proposal is just a suggestion.

Really we are just doing our own thing, but we accept "project proposals" as a way to get other people's ideas. I might never do your projects, but I'll take elements from it into our own projects if I think you have a good idea. I do not believe ideas deserve any kind of protection, but implementations maybe. You might tell me to design X & Y & Z, but we'll actually design Z & W, either for another client or to further our own development. If that client actually takes it to production and starts selling it, we may get a small payment, the client will get most of the profit, and you will get nothing (sorry to be frank). Indeed, it's he who actually does the execution, brings the product to market, and bears the risks who deserve most of the profit. If all you did was put together a shitty prototype with arduinos and crap, and the "introducer" had to get that into shape for production, actually manufacture and sell it, and bear the risks if it doesn't sell, then honestly IMO you don't deserve any money.
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Offline OwO

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If all you want to do is hardware design and not worry about production or sales, there are already avenues for that which is to either work at a company or be a design contractor. If you want designs open sourced, you can do that. Provided you are very good at what you do, you can make demands of your employer or clients, such as open sourcing designs or retaining some IP rights. If you think an average quality open source project is worth enough that the person's living expenses should be paid, go lobby your government for a universal basic income scheme or some funding scheme for open source work (like NLnet). Private businesses can not be expected to be philanthropic; their only goal is to maximize shareholder value which conflicts with open sourcing hardware.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2020, 03:35:58 pm by OwO »
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Offline ogden

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Isn't SeedStudio exactly what OP is looking for? https://www.seeedstudio.com/
 

Offline JohnG

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Private businesses can not be expected to be philanthropic; their only goal is to maximize shareholder value which conflicts with open sourcing hardware.

This is generally a main goal, but not the only goal. For technology companies, if it is or has become the only goal, the death or at least bankruptcy of the company is coming, because there are much more efficient ways to maximize shareholder value. Over time, it tends to attract more and more parasites.

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Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2020, 06:14:01 pm »
Well, the reality is that any product that sells well gets cloned very quickly if there is no copy protection. Brand name and trademark is not a good enough barrier, they will just sell under a different name and still steal most of your sales. I do think there are ways to make it work though, such as a wide portfolio of products that each individually don't sell enough to be worth cloning, but combined makes you a decent profit. I'm a big proponent of open hardware and am constantly researching new ways to make it work.
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Offline floobydust

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2020, 07:53:27 pm »
OSHW the "Creator" earns nothing but some dopamine from the fame and glory, and their design will get ripped off by others, uh it is open-source right? So what's the point?

It's just that the creatives get all the energy sucked out of them. This is OK but guarantees the projects get orphaned afterwards, when they are exhausted and burnt out and broke. Nobody remains as the parent or lead and the crowd generally just rips off the design, changes one thing then loads up their blog as if they did all the work, to get some dopamine, or it gets copied and sold for cheap. This is what I see happening amongst the OSHW dreams and myths out there.

I don't think manufacturing/marketing load is the problem, it's just that OSHW doesn't work in a viable way. All I see are one-man bands making something, isolated and on their own and then showing the golden egg to the world. Then it ends there because most of us have jobs and catering to zillions of people on the Internet wanting features, bug fixes, instructions etc. is just an impossible load.

I have worked for a design house and they had (contract) royalties and/or manufacturing control for all designs. They would lock-in inventors for the IP and production. Can't say I liked that approach at all, imagine paying straight engineering hours to get something designed and you didn't own the IP and had to buy the boards/enclosures etc. exclusively from the design house afterwards, including draw-down commitments i.e. 100 boards/month.
 

Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2020, 10:21:53 pm »
If you work as a design engineer for a salary, you get paid for doing a design.  Then you get paid for the next design, not the last one. 

If someone can make salary for the next design off the last design, except for the initial investment in the first design it comes out the same. 

It's a difficult problem.

Reg
 

Offline Bassman59

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2020, 07:01:27 pm »
OSHW the "Creator" earns nothing but some dopamine from the fame and glory, and their design will get ripped off by others, uh it is open-source right? So what's the point?

<snip>

I don't think manufacturing/marketing load is the problem, it's just that OSHW doesn't work in a viable way. All I see are one-man bands making something, isolated and on their own and then showing the golden egg to the world. Then it ends there because most of us have jobs and catering to zillions of people on the Internet wanting features, bug fixes, instructions etc. is just an impossible load.

I agree.

What is the point of open-source hardware?
 

Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #14 on: July 22, 2020, 07:44:15 pm »
The Arduino, nanoVNA and $20 LCR/transistor tester are the poster children for OSHW.

Before those appeared that functionality was prohibitively expensive for most hobbyists. 

OEM dev kits used to be several hundred dollars.  And then a cohort of kids started EE classes and wanted to use an Arduino for everything.  Scared the hell out of the other vendors.  TI introduced the MSP430 LaunchPad for $4.30.  Now every vendor has dev kits for dirt cheap or free.

The cheapest VNA was the VNWA at $800.  The cheapest LCR and transistor test was Peak Atlas kit for around $300 for a DCA75 and LCR45.  Now a nanoVNA H4 is $60 and a BSIDE ESR02 Pro is $30 or less. Not quite as good, but at 10% the cost, good enough.

Have Fun!
Reg
 

Offline profdc9

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #15 on: July 27, 2020, 01:22:55 pm »
I have to say that the open source designs I have produced I do for several reasons, but these are not related to making a business or a profit:

1)  To educate myself in the technical expertise needed to design and build the device and bring it to a (hopefully) useful state for others. 

2)  To make working examples available that can be examined or modified to be learned from.  Because I expect others may try to reproduce the design, I strive to use parts that are widely available or have equivalent sources from many manufacturers (e.g. jellybean parts) rather than specific parts so that the design will be obsolete once the specific part I rely on reaches end-of-life.

3)  To have examples of my work available so that others may evaluate my qualifications as an engineer.

4)  To generally support my goals of promoting technological literacy and have a technologically informed public that can hold governments and corporations accountable to how technology is used on the public's behalf.

In this sense, I hope that my designs are copied by Chinese and other vendors, and hopefully improved with the improvements contributed back to my project.  But if I was going to start a business around selling devices based on my designs, I would not be able to depend on simply selling the hardware.  I would have to establish a brand around providing the services needed to learn from the experience of building or operating the hardware, kind of like how Heathkit or other hobby electronics manufacturers used to be.  Some Chinese companies have been able to establish good credibility with the hobbyist community, for example, I just bought a Creality Ender 3 Pro printer which is open-source and it is quite good and they seem to have a solid relationship with the maker community and are promoting education about DIY manufacturing.

Dan
 
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Offline floobydust

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #16 on: July 28, 2020, 11:12:07 pm »
I see you did some great work there and I think it's very rare a project having that much scope makes it out in the wild, works well and has decent documentation. How many hours and dollars do you think you spent?

If I put in hundreds of hours sweat and then people rip off the design, change one part, call it their own, cheapen it so it works poorly - that would piss me off. I'm not sure if I think it's my baby but a project still needs a parent, someone looking after it. Instead, all I see are orphaned projects and repo's of OSHW projects years old. Tossing it
(baby) out into the wild... I can't get comfortable with the notion.

OSHW is largely a "one man band" production thus limited in the project's scope and complexity. The poster children are the initial work of one or a few people, as a one time effort. To go beyond this, be bigger, it needs MONEY. Licensing fees, certification and trademark fees- have to be paid somehow. OP even uses the word "occupation".

Raspberry Pi Foundation (charity) is the sole provider of the hardware, they make money off it. Contrast that with Arduino.
The Arduino lawsuits over their trademark, it was just a massive turd that set them back many years. Who pays for the legal fees, where's that revenue? Knock-off Arduino boards are very cheap 1/10 the cost of genuine boards.

2020 Report State of Open Hardware OSHdata
"The most valuable areas that we are interested in exploring further are revenues for certified products, company revenue, and overall OSH market size."
 

Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #17 on: July 29, 2020, 12:10:40 am »
What I have tried to suggest is a business, run by technically savvy business people, which makes its money by getting OSHW designs from proof of concept to product.

The idea isn't "get rich".  It's make a normal salary as an independent designer of OSHW and comparable compensation as an "Introducer".  The designer has to have the drive to actually produce a working prototype on their own.  But they should be able to stick to the engineering and not have to learn to run a business on top of that.

I know a person who has designed a 100 MHz,  1 GSa/s  Zynq based DSO single handed and is grappling with how to bring this to market without having to become a businessman.  I am on record as saying this could not be done.  I was wrong.

It's by no means complete, but it currently acquires and displays data at Rigol DS1000Z waveform update rates.  It's another year's effort to complete the design.  But he has to support himself and you can only work 80 hrs a week for so long.  He wants it to be OSSW/OSHW but lacks the capital and no one seems to have  a clear idea of how to suppress piracy and make service data and user FW control available.

Reg
 
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Offline robca

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #18 on: July 29, 2020, 12:25:08 am »
It seems to me that this would have a massive bootstrap problem.

Nobody with business sense could create a business helping designers with no business sense unless there was a big pipeline of designers with ready design. And no technically proficient designer will spend time designing a full product without knowing that there is somebody to take it to market. You need both sides at once, fully ramped up, in order to be attractive to each other

Also, the "technically competent people with business sense" would need to have above average skills in order to be able to properly evaluate the technical and business feasibility for a variety of completely different projects, from oscilloscopes, to high end musical synthesisers, from audio headphone amplifiers to flight controllers for drones. Those people (if they even exist) can make well above average salaries, and they require businesses with enough turnaround and profit to justify their salaries. Butt by definition OSHW does not generate enough margins, otherwise there is too much room for cloners to use the open design and undercut the cost.

I evaluated a lot of startup business models and I advise private equity on acquisitions/technology investments (software, not hardware). The worst possible ones to invest money in, are the proposals with a "bootstrap problem", since you need to bring both parts to fruition at the same time, both working perfectly

So, nice idea, but anyone with enough business sense to help also has enough business sense to know it's hard to pull off  ;)
 

Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #19 on: July 29, 2020, 01:41:12 am »
It's *very* difficult to pull off.  And that's just on the basis of comparable remuneration.

It's also not viable for anyone other than the top few percent of designers.  But there are people who have the skills and the general social benefit in terms of increasing the pool of people with technical skills because they can afford decent T&M kit  I think makes it worth trying to find a way.

Have Fun!
Reg
 

Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #20 on: July 29, 2020, 05:16:06 am »
The Arduino, nanoVNA and $20 LCR/transistor tester are the poster children for OSHW.
No they are not. I am involved in NanoVNA development and can tell you it's a cesspool of GPL violations (see [redacted manufacturer]), open designs getting ripped off and turned proprietary, and anticompetitive behaviour from the biggest vendors (fake orders traffic and false claims of selling original devices). The vendors doing the most amount of shady practices who turned others' open source designs proprietary are making the most income, while original developers and original vendors who first brought the NanoVNA V2 to market are making a pittance.

I'm afraid open source VNA development may be stalled for some years as all the actual hardware engineers get turned off from it, and you may never see an open source 6GHz design in the near future, all due to endless greed of a few. Tragedy of the commons.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2020, 04:59:35 pm by OwO »
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Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #21 on: July 29, 2020, 12:22:05 pm »
They are successful because they work and are available at a price most people can afford.   The fact that some abuse the situation and don't play by the rules is an indictment of the people who do that, not the concept.

Banks are not responsible for causing bank robberies.

It really doesn't matter if there is ever a 6 GHz nanoVNA.  A lot of people have had an opportunity to learn about vector network analysis that would not have done that otherwise.  That is a net good to society as a whole.

If you do not own the tools of your trade because they are too costly, you are to some extent a salaried slave to those who own the tools.  Read "Max Wien, Mr. Hewlett and a Rainy Sunday Afternoon" by Jim Williams.  A proper home has a library and a lab.

In some places broken test gear is readily available cheaply.  In other places it's not.  Everything in my lab traveled thousands of miles to get to me and 25 year old Tek and HP gear is heavy and expensive to ship.

If you know the story of the development of the nanoVNA as well as you suggest, please write a history.  I'd be very interested to know who the players are besides hugen79 and edy555.  Keeping up with the groups.io list is impossible.

Have Fun!
Reg
 

Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #22 on: July 29, 2020, 01:25:08 pm »
Story is very simple:

- 2016 - edy555 (aka ttrftech, Takahashi Tomohiro) designs the NanoVNA from scratch, with his own schematic, PCB layout, and firmware. The schematic and firmware are public and GPL licensed. The PCB layout is unreleased. edy555 sold NanoVNA kits for a short while.

- 2019 - hugen uses edy555's schematic, makes small changes (adding a battery and enclosure), designs a PCB from it, and begins selling it. The hardware is virtually unchanged and edy555's firmware runs unmodified on it. He did not release PCB layouts. At this point I'd say edy555 still deserves at least 90% of the credit for the NanoVNA hardware design and firmware, and hugen deserves some credit for the layout design.

- 2019 - flyoob (deepelec, former employee of sysjoint) designs the NanoVNA-F, also based on edy555's schematic, and without releasing PCB layouts. It runs a modified version of edy555's firmware that has been ported to FreeRTOS.

- late 2019 - HCXQS and OwOComm forms a team of engineers that would design the NanoVNA V2 from scratch. The hardware is entirely a new design and has nothing to do with the original edy555 NanoVNA. The firmware is also half from scratch, with only the UI and menu system copied from edy555's NanoVNA firmware. The hardware design files are all released and we are also fully GPL compliant on the firmware side.


So far so good, but in 2020 is when it all turned to shit. [redacted manufacturer] would start only releasing firmware binaries with no corresponding source (his firmware is almost entirely derived from edy555's, so it's bound by the GPL license). [redacted manufacturer]'s associated companies clone my team's design, with zero changes to the PCB, and flood the market by selling at or below cost to distributors (remember, he has a LOT of capital built up from his NanoVNA sales, so he can afford to do that). As a result all Aliexpress stores that used to carry original NanoVNA V2 devices now sell clones. (Note: do not buy a NanoVNA V2 from Aliexpress. They have little to no QC and a high DOA rate.) [redacted] also uses fake order traffic on taobao to get his new listing to the #1 position and to look like the official listing.

The NanoVNA community (mainly on nanovna-users on groups.io) are kind of naive, they are completely oblivious to the GPL violations by manufacturers but they berated a volunteer contributor for forgetting to keep sources and binaries in sync, they look at my client's product being stolen as if it's nothing and even promote the clone, saying he "improved" the design when he made zero changes to the PCB, did not bother to figure out how to do proper QC, and played foul business practices to attempt to shut down my client.

With that said, I don't blame my client if they are completely turned off from open source hardware in the future. OwOComm is in no danger but I have very little motivation to do VNA projects at this point (I want to focus more on my SDR projects). Some of our team members may still be hired by our client to work on their future VNA projects, but there's no promise it will be open source since it's out of the control of OwOComm.

The current state is edy555 and all the other true NanoVNA developers make a pittance or even nothing (there are countless contributors to the open source firmware like DiSlord, they aren't getting any money out of this). I understand that most contributors aren't expecting to get paid for their work, but if you take their work and profit from it, the least you can do is make your contributions public too. Schematics and PCB layouts are not protected by copyright, so something like GPL doesn't have any legal force. GPL formalizes this for firmware/software but even then people still ignore it (see: blatant GPL violations).
« Last Edit: August 21, 2020, 05:18:02 pm by OwO »
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Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #23 on: July 29, 2020, 02:03:00 pm »
EDIT: removed semi off-topic rant
« Last Edit: August 21, 2020, 04:30:38 pm by OwO »
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Offline profdc9

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #24 on: July 29, 2020, 02:37:48 pm »
Actually, PCB layouts can be copyrighted.  I use the CC-BY-SA 4.0 to copyright my layouts so that modifications to the layout are required to be licensed also under CC-BY-SA 4.0.  It is difficult to enforce, but at least if you can show that their layout was derived from yours, they have violated the terms of the copyright.

For my part, I have tried to make the VNA I designed work with the parts in spec and so have an undistorted signal on the higher harmonics.  I do not drive the SA612 mixers and SI5351 clock generator out of spec so to compensate I have a way to decrease the IF bandwidth to get more signal and use a lock-in type approach to integrate the signal, which slows down acquisition, but at least you can integrate a decent signal at the upper frequencies if you are patient.  My design, as always is at

http://www.github.com/profdc9/VNA

You can now have one of these made with most of the parts populated by JLCPCB.  I myself have been exploring was of getting a 6 GHz VNA design going, which would be using two MAX2871's in conjunction with two SI5351's as well as designing my own downconverting mixer based on the BFP740 transistor.  That is one reason why I have been prototyping mixer and amplifier circuits based on the BFP740 transistor.

Dan
 
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Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #25 on: July 29, 2020, 03:34:46 pm »
designing my own downconverting mixer based on the BFP740 transistor.  That is one reason why I have been prototyping mixer and amplifier circuits based on the BFP740 transistor.

Dude, that is exactly what I'm doing too, and exact same transistor too. Are you doing a switching mixer or Gilbert cell?
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Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #26 on: July 29, 2020, 03:41:33 pm »
This paper goes into detail about the legality of copyright protection on PCB layout designs in US and China: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2337014
The consensus is the functional aspects of a layout design are not covered by copyright, and only if the board design has aesthetic aspects can it be protected, but then only those aspects. Similarly a schematic design document may be copyrightable, but only the document itself and not an implementation of the circuit.
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Offline profdc9

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #27 on: July 29, 2020, 04:33:10 pm »
I am using a half-Gilbert cell or single-balanced mixer.  I may go to a full-balanced mixer but the distributed parasitics of a larger circuit may obviate the benefit of that.  It is part of a bigger project called the RFUtilityKnifeBFP740:

https://github.com/profdc9/RFUtilityKnifeBFP740

This is a combination of five circuits I am working on including the mixer.  Because it basically costs the same to make five circuits on one board from JLCPCB, that is what I'm doing.  The mixer is on the lower left.  I publish my experiments on github as I work on them.

I have attached the Qucs-S (qucs with ngspice) simulation of my mixer if you want to check it out.  You are free to use it under the CC-BY-SA 4.0.  I hope it may help you with a new VNA or SA design.

Dan
 

Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #28 on: July 29, 2020, 05:23:47 pm »
Story is very simple:

- 2016 - edy555 (aka ttrftech, Takahashi Tomohiro) designs the NanoVNA from scratch, with his own schematic, PCB layout, and firmware. The schematic and firmware are public and GPL licensed. The PCB layout is unreleased. edy555 sold NanoVNA kits for a short while.


Thanks.  That pretty much matches up with my understanding.  However, there is animosity  among some towards edy555 because he used Tom Baier's VNWA circuit.  My response to that was even a patent doesn't last forever.

I've tried to find a way to contact edy555 so I could send him some money via PayPal, but never found an address I was confident was his.

Reg
 

Offline floobydust

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #29 on: July 29, 2020, 09:16:45 pm »
Is there a way to make OSHW thrive- what would have to change?
I'm asking because if the concept is a fantasy, a bullshit notion, then can we end the dreaming about it already  :horse:

I am surprised to see OSHW concepts are largely communist philosophies:

"... that there should be no patent laws and an elimination of intellectual property protection entirely.  The idea of commercializing ideas goes against the public ownership of all property produced by society."
"the {patent} incentive offered is a monopoly which increases the private profits realized from the invention rather than the benefits to society in general."

So all designs are for the benefits to society in general- it's wrong to own any IP and have a monopoly for private profits. Sounds like OSHW to me.
 

Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #30 on: July 29, 2020, 09:57:57 pm »
I certainly don't endorse the communist doctrine.

My desire is to lower the cost of T&M kit such that  recent EE grads can afford to have a working lab of their own.  There are many EEs who just view it as a job and would never spend a nickel on it, but they will be left by the wayside fairly quickly.  My concern is those who would have their own lab if they could afford it.

I'm also concerned about the lack of component level repair information and lack of FW access to fix bugs.  While FW access was not available from Tek and HP, component level repair data was.  But that is now seldom the case.

OSSW works because it spreads the cost of SW across many corporate entities who make money selling services.  So what I am suggesting is spreading the cost of HW design across multiple manufactures by selling manufacturing support services with sufficient revenue going to the designer to allow them to make a living.

It may well be that to be successful OSHW only  schematics are OSHW and Gerbers are licensed.  And perhaps the UI is OSSW, but the FPGA bitstream is licensed.

I don't know what the answer is.   But proprietary only designs result in a lot of reinvention of the wheel.

It may be that OSHW is only for hobby projects where the designer does not need or want to try to generate revenue from the work.  I'm redesigning a 2 transistor and single IC 40 m transceiver.  I have *no* desire to sell it.  But I'd like for people to be able to buy it cheaply.

Reg
 

Offline floobydust

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #31 on: July 29, 2020, 11:14:41 pm »
I'm just looking at the politics of open-source hardware and the resulting clash. It purports the designs have to be open, source files available to everyone, for the greater benefit of society. No individual alone is allowed to profit. It's very noble to make a design and give away all the IP and files.

But you are advocating a monopoly- select manufacturers that can build a widget and make profit.
So the IP has to be protected somehow, otherwise the vultures swoop in and rip it off... which is what we're seeing happen with OSHW projects. Designers are upset because their sweat and toil gets bastardized or others profiteering from their work. So projects are limited to a flash in the pan happening, one-man band kind of complexity.

Enforcing any copyright or licensing without funds for legal support and all the while dealing overseas with a country that does not support IP protection, seems doomed. The project has no money to protect or look after itself in any way, it's destined to get ripped off by the vultures.
"Creative Commons is only a service provider for standardized license text, not a party in any agreement."  "... All copyright owners must individually defend their rights..."

I don't have an answer because I see it as a clash of political systems - either we do it as a flat society and let the work be for anyone and get pilfered... or set it up to profit in a Capitalist kind of way.
 

Offline profdc9

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #32 on: July 30, 2020, 02:10:04 am »
I originally wanted to use edy555's NanoVNA as a model for my VNA, but he has an ambiguous license and did not response to inquiries about his device.   There were also aspects of his design that make no sense to me.  Therefore I felt that I should not use his design or software.  Instead, I started with the EU1KY analyzer design.  But I have gradually worked it into my own version.  I have tried to keep track of the provenance of the various components that are incorporated into the software I wrote.

As for HP and Tektronix, I have used at the lab $150,000 HP VNAs that have perfectly good hardware but no software updates and therefore succumb to planned obsolescence.  I have much other otherwise good hardware with obsolete software.  Open source hardware would be nice because it might avoid ending up in landfills prematurely.

 

Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #33 on: July 30, 2020, 04:26:20 am »
My opinion is simply that ideas do not deserve protection, but implementations do. If I had it my way, patents would be highly limited (5 years maximum term and higher standard for novelty), but functional designs including PCB layouts would be copyrightable.

Protecting your design by simple secrecy is fine in my books, keeping a secret is a basic right. However PCB copying is trivial in China, almost every stall in the shenzhen market advertise PCB cloning services, so releasing schematics but not layout files is futile IMO.

I will go with a compromise in my future contract projects, which is closed source hardware for 1-2 years, and everything released to public domain afterwards. During the protected period you can use techniques like epoxy potting to protect your layout design.
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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #34 on: August 02, 2020, 10:28:57 am »
I am using a half-Gilbert cell or single-balanced mixer.  I may go to a full-balanced mixer but the distributed parasitics of a larger circuit may obviate the benefit of that.  It is part of a bigger project called the RFUtilityKnifeBFP740:


Interesting.  What's the benefit to designing your own mixer from discrete transistors?  Gilbert-cell RF/microwave mixers are kind of a solved problem, aren't they? 
 

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #35 on: August 02, 2020, 10:46:13 am »
Mixers above 6GHz are hard to get and expensive. After some looking around it seems using a single transistor as a switching mixer was pretty common in satellite LNBs, e.g. NE4210S01 (JFET). I'll be doing some experiments with that.
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Offline profdc9

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #36 on: August 03, 2020, 12:23:20 am »
This is true, but I am trying to learn how to do it, and secondly I think that the mixer should work into the X-band which is a little better than most of the low-cost MMIC mixers, and at a fraction of the price.  For example, here's an example of the circuit (in simulation) with a BFP740 model mixing 10.0 and 10.4 GHz.  Of course the parasitics are going to matter a lot but the circuit is designed to have a minimal layout on a single layer above a ground plane.  I am trying to take advantage of JLCPCB's placement of tiny 0402 components to get everything very small.

I am using a half-Gilbert cell or single-balanced mixer.  I may go to a full-balanced mixer but the distributed parasitics of a larger circuit may obviate the benefit of that.  It is part of a bigger project called the RFUtilityKnifeBFP740:


Interesting.  What's the benefit to designing your own mixer from discrete transistors?  Gilbert-cell RF/microwave mixers are kind of a solved problem, aren't they?
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #37 on: August 03, 2020, 02:17:19 am »
I'm just looking at the politics of open-source hardware and the resulting clash. It purports the designs have to be open, source files available to everyone, for the greater benefit of society. No individual alone is allowed to profit. It's very noble to make a design and give away all the IP and files.

This is such a problem that I came up with a Creative Commons like OSHW logo variant that allowed creators to show exactly what parts of the design they are licensing.
Was quite a popular idea, and many have started to use it, but it resulted in nothing but crickets from the OSHW association.  I think they regard me as some sort of non-pure OSHW heretic  ::)





« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 04:17:43 am by EEVblog »
 
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Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #38 on: August 03, 2020, 04:32:44 am »
But you are advocating a monopoly- select manufacturers that can build a widget and make profit.
So the IP has to be protected somehow, otherwise the vultures swoop in and rip it off... which is what we're seeing happen with OSHW projects. Designers are upset because their sweat and toil gets bastardized or others profiteering from their work. So projects are limited to a flash in the pan happening, one-man band kind of complexity.

Designers making money in the OSHW space isn't rocket science, you just need to do several things:

1) Have the design ready for sale at a reasonable price when you release it. It usually takes time to copy a design and sell it. Of course if it's mainstream profitable enough then the mas market cloners will come in quickly. But with niche items, it's not hard to protect yourself through reputation. Once everyone know to get it from your site then that's what gets linked everywhere.

2) Keep ahead of the competition for new designs and become the "go to" original source. A lot of people like to buy from the original source, so make it clear that doing so is supporting the original creator. i.e make it personal, put a face behind the project.

3) Protect with Trademarks on names, and enforce that. "NanoVNA" is (was) a perfectly trademarkable name. Let the cloners sell your OSHW product, but if they try and use your Trademarked name then send them cease and desist notice. BTW, you don't have the actually apply for and pay for a Trademark for it to be enforceable. If you mark all names with TM from day one then you have commercial use rights (I forget the exact legal terms here).
Of course this works less with generic no-name Aliexpress cloners, but works fine with all the major players in the industry like Adafruit, Sparkfun, Seeed et.al.

4) Advertise widely that there are clones and that you don't make any money from it and they are using your Trademarked name illegally.


For example, I have been selling my uCurrent for over 12 years now, and it's been OSWH from day one. I provide all the original design files so you can make your own. But I make sure to send a cease and desist to anyone that tries to use my uCurrent name on clones. And those people have always been happy to comply. I've even let them sell the remainder of their stock with the trademarked name on it for no commission. I'm still the go-to source 12 years later.

Also, if a design uses specific single source high cost parts, then there is not as much margin to under cut you than there is on say a generic Arduino clone.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 04:36:10 am by EEVblog »
 
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Offline ionberkley

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #39 on: August 03, 2020, 05:38:07 am »
Dave already nailed many of the arguments that show OSHW is a very viable day job.

But to add a few more:

1) If your "idea" is to make a low spec version of something that already exists at a fraction of the legacy price then you are already a cloner to some degree and the barrier to entry to those who excel at this to come take your spin on the product space and drive the cost lower is low to non existent. If your idea is something that is significantly new, original and sophisticated, then you are immediately differentiated and the barrier to someone else understanding the subtlety underlying your product is still high, even with the source materials in the public space. Frankly it's no different in the closed source world, if your new idea doesn't pass the high barrier to entry test for competition then think hard before spending more time on it.

2) You are not putting dinner on the table with a new $9.99 widget, so if that's your thing, be real with yourself that you *may* cover your costs but likely not, and you are doing this to make the world a nicer place in some way. If at all possible, you want your new OSHW "Thing" to be something whos available market involves significant commercial purchasers...it's a different price point, and crucially when you make something that some company buys N of, instead of Joe the hacker and his mates buying one each, your support burden per unit is dramatically lower.

3) Just because you open sourced it all, doesn't mean you can't also sell the same IP under other closed source terms to those who wish to embed/modify/rebrand it in some way to fortify there deep pocketed but stagnant brand. The initial open source viral spread is your low budget marketing outreach.

4) There is an almost limitless opportunity to sell contracting services to people wanting to use your widget, with some tweak so that it works with there own product line/idea. If your widget is sophisticated and complex don't assume that the rest of the world can run with it *and* understand it just because they have the source files.

5) You don't have to add much in the way of a black box to an "Open Source" design to make it unattractive to the cloners, and it can often be a piece of the system that has little to no value being Open Source anyhow.

Personally I have worked on a number of OSHW designs that own their market against all comers indefinitely, even in the presence of cloners, and my inbox constantly overfloweth with people who want me to help make Widget X do something new for them and are happy to exchange plentiful cash for that.
 
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Online ebastler

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #40 on: August 03, 2020, 05:43:44 am »
He wants it to be OSSW/OSHW but lacks the capital and no one seems to have  a clear idea of how to suppress piracy

I don't understand. What would be the point of making it open-source, if at the same time you want to avoid "piracy"?

Is the idea to publish the design files and source code, but with a license that does not allow others to use them for their own purposes? That would simply mean that you are aiming for free community support for your own commercial, proprietary product. That's not "open source" in my book, but rather "nice try!".  :-\
 

Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #41 on: August 03, 2020, 05:48:36 am »
"NanoVNA" is (was) a perfectly trademarkable name.

USPTO thinks otherwise (good thing it was refused registration, because it wasn't edy555 applying for it):
https://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn88701756&docId=OOA20200226121814#docIndex=1&page=1

Quote
SECTION 2(e)(1) REFUSAL - MERELY DESCRIPTIVE

Registration is refused because the applied-for mark merely describes a feature, characteristic and function of applicant’s goods.  Trademark Act Section 2(e)(1), 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(1); see TMEP §§1209.01(b), 1209.03 et seq.
...

Applicant’s applied-for mark is NANOVNA for “Electronic devices for measuring electric current; Instruments for measuring length; Optical inspection apparatus; Precision balances; Protractors; Radiation gauges used for measuring the physical properties of materials; Surveying instruments; Surveying machines and instruments; Surveyors' levels; Teaching robots.”

The attached entry from Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines NANO as “one billionth part of something” and the attached entry from Acronym Finder describes VNA as “Vector Network Analyzer.” The attached webpage from www.tek.com (Vector Network Analyzers are used to test component specifications and verify design simulations to make sure systems and their components work properly together) explains the beneficial nature and usage of vector network analyzers in the technology industry. Descriptiveness is further evidenced by the attached webpages from http://nanovna.com/?page_id=21 (NanoVNA is very tiny handheld Vector Network Analyzer (VNA)), www.rtl-sdr.com (Reviews of the NanoVNA: An Ultra Low Cost $50 Vector Network Analyzer), and https://hackaday.com/ (nanovna is a $50 vector network analyzer) which shows that NANOVNA describes a small vector network analyzer. Moreover, Applicant has stated for the record that the wording NANOVNA has no significant meaning in the relevant industry; however, the above attached webpages shows that this wording has relevant descriptive meaning in the applicable industry. Thus, this wording is merely descriptive of the characteristic and feature of Applicant’s electronic products.

If you don't register your trademark the consequences vary by country. In the US you gain trademark rights by using the mark when doing commerce, and unregistered trademarks usually still get some protection if it's actually unique. In China it's mostly first-to-file. Someone who tries to register your trademark before you do may even get it, but typically they can't stop you continuing to use the mark if you can prove you were using it in commerce before the other applicant filed for a trademark. That is exactly what happened to many Japanese brands here, copycats registered first, and the original brand get no more protection although they can continue to use the brand.
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Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #42 on: August 03, 2020, 05:52:04 am »
If you don't register your trademark the consequences vary by country.

Yes, of course, always consult a local Trademark attorney if you are serious.
But often just having the TM there and cease and desist notice is enough to work.
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #43 on: August 03, 2020, 05:56:12 am »
He wants it to be OSSW/OSHW but lacks the capital and no one seems to have  a clear idea of how to suppress piracy

I don't understand. What would be the point of making it open-source, if at the same time you want to avoid "piracy"?

I explain here:


Quote
Is the idea to publish the design files and source code, but with a license that does not allow others to use them for their own purposes? That would simply mean that you are aiming for free community support for your own commercial, proprietary product. That's not "open source" in my book, but rather "nice try!".  :-\

No, you could be doing it for genuine intent for learning, repair, modification etc.
This is why I created my OSHW logo idea. For example, if you just want to release the schematic, you can just release the schematic, and that's OK (actually a good thing).
« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 05:59:52 am by EEVblog »
 

Offline floobydust

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #44 on: August 03, 2020, 05:57:25 am »
But you are advocating a monopoly- select manufacturers that can build a widget and make profit.
So the IP has to be protected somehow, otherwise the vultures swoop in and rip it off... which is what we're seeing happen with OSHW projects. Designers are upset because their sweat and toil gets bastardized or others profiteering from their work. So projects are limited to a flash in the pan happening, one-man band kind of complexity.

Designers making money in the OSHW space isn't rocket science [...]

You've left me a bit confused - the 121GW started out as open-source, but not where it is today. You closed the design I believe. What's going on, other side of the fence?
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #45 on: August 03, 2020, 06:01:14 am »
You've left me a bit confused - the 121GW started out as open-source, but not where it is today. You closed the design I believe. What's going on, other side of the fence?

No I did not. I never said nor promised it would be open source. I said it would be as open as possible, and that I would see what the manufacturer wanted to do. They decided only to release the schematic. Nothing I can do about, I do not own the rights.
The app software that I paid for and own the rights to is fully open source.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 07:43:39 am by EEVblog »
 

Offline floobydust

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #46 on: August 03, 2020, 06:33:13 am »
I read the Kickstarter text and thought that was how the project started out "It's fully open source though, so you can take it and run with it." oops it's the app section
So I thought open vs closed changed and wondered why.
 

Offline nuclearcat

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #47 on: August 03, 2020, 07:36:27 am »
First sorry for my bad english, i'm sure it's hard to read in long post.

IMO for opensource you need to pick model you like. I am writing on experience of several friends and customers, who succeed and failed on this matters.
I usually helped them with the crypto part.
Also my examples are somehow limited "use case", they wont work well for devices without "data" interface, like uCurrent.

First and main question - do you plan to make profit from it?
If NO or you don't mind if someone will make better product - fire and forget. Thats simplest case, and there is a lot of those. Open donations if you like, if you want to make support of product more self-sustaining, so it can buy you some beer. Be ready, that at any moment someone make better version.
And thats totally fine, if you want to share something cool with world.

If YES, then it's getting more interesting.

First rule in all of this:
Don't release up to date recipe how to make competing, successful product, especially if your product have high complexity+value, and you don't have new version/revision prepared,
 that have significantly better features and most of users will desperately want to upgrade to this new release.
Remember and keep in mind, if you plan to make opensource, your main priority to make life of users, and especially contributors easier, not life of unfair competitors.
Another thing, if someone enough big decide to invest in copying your product, without agreeing with you, you need to have all ready to hit him hard,
at moment when he start mass sales. He will have bunch of obsolete devices stock that he can't sell and he should be hurt on marketplaces he uses.

Story 1
Once manufacturer of wireless links based on ath5k chipset released build that was allowing to run some cheap D-Link Wireless AP as his product, as response to a trolls,
they required proof that he really worked hard to firmware and not just copied it from vendor.
This is how he ended his sales. People just kept flashing D-Links and most of them didn't wanted to buy his products, just because of a bit better reliability.
And it was just binary release, single firmware file, that killed everything.

Story 2, not really mine, so not sure if i understand all facts properly
You have to keep an eye also that where is most of your property kept, like ELM327 most of value was in chip firmware. They are not opensource, but
most of their hardwork was in decoding all those countless car protocols, was kept in firmware. PCB was trivial to copy, so everything that was waiting
when cloners will be able to extract firmware, and by not protecting copy they just gave them a gift, almost same way as in story 1.
And new products was not that much significantly better.
https://www.elmelectronics.com/products/ics/obd/#ELM327
Low power, settings retained, buffer size, its not very convincing.
Worst part, they missed moment and market of apps built around _CLONES_, and not original hardware.
Probably

Rule 2
Make your product such way, that users can quickly identify effing clone and legitimately demand their money back.
Primary trick - even it is fully opensource, nobody force you to release private keys that can confirm product genuinity.
First of all register some quick to remember domain that resemble your product name. Make some community-friendly features around it, forum, where people can talk, support system etc. Don't invest much,
but keep it ready, just in case.
Use crypto, components unique identification parts to build defense, but dont expose it early.

Several scenarios:

There is many ways how you can protect your device cryptographically. It's all depends how your manufacturing is done, i wont list it here as it will make post huge.
Then, as example - during update or first supplementary software run - show that this product is COUNTERFEIT.
Important it must hit at right moment, most likely directly after purchase!
Perfect if you can enable this "surprise" for moment when "cloners" will run mass sales.
They will receive wonderful chargebacks, might be kicked out of marketplaces like amazon, aliexpress and others. Hurt them as much as you can.

If you discovered presence of clones too late, also you can also add routine to verify hardware/serials in new releases,
and just show already existing users (dont hurt innocent victims of counterfeit products!) that their hardware is not original
with suggestion where to send info, such as where they bought it, for sake of naming and shaming or takedown requests.
You can send them what particular flaws their hardware/software have.
You can even make some profit from it, and if copied design is OK - release custom update for it, for small fee that will make device legit and workaround some bugs introduced by "cloner".
(add crypto signature, so this update wont be copied!)

Rule 3
Make sure, if someone try to reverse engineer your product, he will spot warning, that surprises are waiting for him and he gonna lose money, and better
if he make deal with you and sell legit product.
And make sure your gun loaded with multiple bullets. You might need to make warning shots too.

There is another model, that you make useable opensource product, and optional "closed" commercial features based on it. It is not truly opensource, however, it is very successful too.
It is very reasonable if you product can be used for hobbyists, where they can spend more time using free version, but paying much less or even making their own, and those who want to
use it for business, can afford to pay for "commercial" one.
But this model also has its own nuances too.

P.S. GPL. Don't idealize it. IMO it's not very enforceable, and really works only if there are large customers in your market who are concerned about licensing cleanliness. Others just dont care.
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #48 on: August 03, 2020, 07:48:43 am »
Don't release up to date recipe how to make competing, successful product, especially if your product have high complexity+value, and you don't have new version/revision prepared,
 that have significantly better features and most of users will desperately want to upgrade to this new release.

That's called the Osborne Effect
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_effect

Quote
Rule 2
Make your product such way, that users can quickly identify effing clone and legitimately demand their money back.

Easiest way to do that is to put your name, your company logo, your Trademark name etc on it. If it has any of those things and it's not from an authorised reseller then it's an illegal clone.
 
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Offline nuclearcat

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #49 on: August 03, 2020, 08:13:03 am »
Easiest way to do that is to put your name, your company logo, your Trademark name etc on it. If it has any of those things and it's not from an authorised reseller then it's an illegal clone.
Partially agree. Will work for most, but not for all.
Many people is just too lazy to check, who is authorized and who is not.
Even more want to buy product on comfortable for them marketplace, amazon, aliexpress, ebay. Authorized resellers often too hard to deal with in anywhere else than "First world".
And most importantly, "cloners" may not dare to copy the brand/product of a famous brand/blogger, but they do not care about the reputation of a small developer who has much less leverage to force them to stop selling.
 

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #50 on: August 03, 2020, 08:41:29 am »
A method to prevent un-authorised clone is to use a dedicated crypto authentication chip. The Atmel ATSHA204A is such a device and it is very cheap (< $0.4) . The creator can program his personal unique keys into the device which can be authenticated in firmware or application software. The firmware or the application program has to be closed source for this to work.
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Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #51 on: August 03, 2020, 08:47:26 am »
A method to prevent un-authorised clone is to use a dedicated crypto authentication chip. The Atmel ATSHA204A is such a device and it is very cheap (< $0.4) . The creator can program his personal unique keys into the device which can be authenticated in firmware or application software. The firmware or the application program has to be closed source for this to work.

They could still do a pointer jump around the routine though if they can read the binary.
The 121GW multimeter firmware binary for example was dissembled and changes made to the routines by someone on this forum, all without the source code.
Of course, the open source purist will have a heart attack if you try and protect your design like this.
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #52 on: August 03, 2020, 08:50:28 am »
Easiest way to do that is to put your name, your company logo, your Trademark name etc on it. If it has any of those things and it's not from an authorised reseller then it's an illegal clone.
Partially agree. Will work for most, but not for all.
Many people is just too lazy to check, who is authorized and who is not.

Of course, there is no one solution to any of this.
Even though I try to crack down on people using my uCurrent name, I know there are still people out there selling it. You can't play whack-a-mole forever.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 08:52:46 am by EEVblog »
 

Offline nuclearcat

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #53 on: August 03, 2020, 09:49:08 am »
A method to prevent un-authorised clone is to use a dedicated crypto authentication chip. The Atmel ATSHA204A is such a device and it is very cheap (< $0.4) . The creator can program his personal unique keys into the device which can be authenticated in firmware or application software. The firmware or the application program has to be closed source for this to work.
And you will get manufacturing process + BOM a lot more expensive for nothing. If you rely exclusively on this - you have weak spot, as soon as they find way to extract private keys (not only chip, might be in logistics/manufacturing process), you are doomed.
Also i dont like idea adding to product something, that users will pay for, and it is not really useful to anything else than product authenticity verification. I might understand it for something that is critical, like cryptocurrency tokens, but stuff measurement equipment - no.
Most common way - you just need to get to make unique token for each device, preferable linked to ID of MCU or peripherals(and other ID's that are too expensive to change/make same as yours), that are hard to change (like STM32 Unique ID). Keep an eye in each unique part of your manufacturing that you can use for this purpose. Sometimes it is even specific to your manufacturer PCB impedance or trace width :)
And keep registry of this parameters, and especially unique ids for manufactured devices.
If you dont trust factory - you can have secondary step in token deployment, for example generating second signature on first use. E.g. you can have second signature for same serial number/initial token.
And you dont need to deploy firmware with full verification of token from first moments, you can do it later. Especially that part which rely on ID of hardware :) First you might just insert unique token and keep it.
Then you add part that will verify it. Most likely they will think "ah this fool trying to defeat us" and will spend resources to decap MCU and copy one of signatures in all their clones.
Most important part - they will invest in that $$$.
Then, you wait best moment and can blacklist it in new firmware/activation. They lost their investment. Most likely they will give up and curse you a bit.
Next bullet - in new firmware release or activation add procedure to verify if token match unique ID's.
If you keep hurting them, no sane person will keep spending money on that and find easier product to clone.

« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 09:52:32 am by nuclearcat »
 

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #54 on: August 03, 2020, 09:58:49 am »
The ATSHA204A keys cannot be read back so easily. The creator typically programs these devices and releases them to the assembly house. So they do not have access to your keys. The advantage is that the authentication happens offline without any internet. The firmware will just not work if it does not find the right key. Also the ATSHA204A has a unique ID which is random. That helps you to track every device out there, if you want to.

As you mentioned, the second step of signature verification can be helpful too...
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Offline OwO

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #55 on: August 03, 2020, 10:01:19 am »
If the firmware just does a if(!checkGenuine()) { halt } that's extremely weak even if the firmware is closed source. Most popular MCUs like stm32 have had their code protection features broken many years ago. That kind of control flow will be very obvious in a debugger, no source code needed. All they need to do is look at the path of execution that the code takes on a genuine device and compare it to their clone.

At the very least you need to make sure the code path executed is almost identical when a clone is detected, and only use variable or register values to disable functionality (e.g. add lots of noise, slow down the UI, etc etc). You don't need a separate authentication chip; the unique chip id on the mcu itself is good, but absolutely don't do something like if(chipid != expectedChipid) isClone = true. Each firmware is unique and tied to the chip id. Have various parts of the code "bleed" data from the chip id into variables, and have other parts of the code "bleed" data from the firmware unique data area into variables. At some point some code will tie the two together and generate values that are affected by both the chip id and your firmware unique data. Keep lots of these variables around, the key here is to not let cloners find all the variables, once a variable is found finding the "correct" value is trivial. Have these variables then affect other variables, for example through checksumming parts of memory, through buffer overflows that "inadvertently" write to unrelated variables. Finally write code that would cause broken functionality if any of these variables aren't the right value.

You can do this even on open source software if you apply the right techniques, see "how to write unmaintainable code": https://github.com/Droogans/unmaintainable-code
« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 10:05:57 am by OwO »
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Offline nuclearcat

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #56 on: August 03, 2020, 10:24:53 am »
The ATSHA204A keys cannot be read back so easily. The creator typically programs these devices and releases them to the assembly house. So they do not have access to your keys. The advantage is that the authentication happens offline without any internet. The firmware will just not work if it does not find the right key. Also the ATSHA204A has a unique ID which is random. That helps you to track every device out there, if you want to.

As you mentioned, the second step of signature verification can be helpful too...
Whole purpose of secure chips is to make sure secret part of key - safe. Programming at creator side create expensive and complicated loop on logistics.
You need to get this chips (pay separately for shipping from distributor), program them somehow on mass scale at your home/company(do you value your time?), insert in acceptable way for factory (so their P&P will be happy).
And you need to be sure factory will accept it.
Many factories wont, first headache dealing with your custom shipment, rather than using their own stock and suppliers they have well established logistic procedures, and what if you didnt stored those chips properly and they will have too high percentage of boards that wont pass QC? Who will pay for it?
All this will end in significantly more expensive device.
 

Online T3sl4co1l

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #57 on: August 03, 2020, 11:35:20 am »
Don't forget all the other techniques that can be employed:



In a FOSS context, this at best amounts to a verification that the hardware is as expected.  You could test for marginal behavior of the MCU itself, or peripherals or other components.  Might also catch out poor tolerance components, Ali specials and the like.  A POST but not so much for functional integrity as security.

Interesting upshot: if such edge cases can be demonstrated and employed effectively, it at least forces the copycats to use legitimate parts.  You don't get the money, but your customers at least get a quality product (if their copies work at all).

Also, if you employ these techniques defensively -- detecting copies currently being sold -- you won't be able to restrict earlier versions, but you can lock out users from subsequent updates unless they get legit hardware.

All in all, the economy of such techniques is rather poor: all it takes is one little trick to defeat a given measure, while taking exponentially more effort to construct each measure.

Related: it would be cool if it were easy to embed security measures into the PCB.  Unfortunately, PCB geometry isn't easy to read directly with electrical signals -- a VNA, sampling scope, even SDR perhaps (a missed opportunity on the nanoVNA?), but everything else, no such luck.

Well, sort of.  If you could measure the charge coupling between irritatingly overlapped traces (making an intentionally poor layout), you could do a sort of analog capacitive-touch matrix out of mundane signals.  Catch: you need analog sensing to do it...

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Online ebastler

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #58 on: August 03, 2020, 12:31:57 pm »
Don't forget all the other techniques that can be employed:

In a FOSS context, this at best amounts to a verification that the hardware is as expected.  You could test for marginal behavior of the MCU itself, or peripherals or other components.  Might also catch out poor tolerance components, Ali specials and the like.  A POST but not so much for functional integrity as security.

I would think that such techniques are more of "academic" interest, since they have significant downsides:
  • You already mentioned the amount of work to implement a verification measure which, once you have put it out there, is often easily defeated.

  • You make your product less stable/robust than it needs to be, because you artificially impose tighter tolerances. (Product would still work, but fails the authenticity verification.) This may catch up with you if you underestimate component tolerances or operating conditions, say temperatures, in the legitimate product. And it is bound to really piss off those legitimate customers when the next software/firmware upgrade makes their gadget fail...

  • And finally, even disabling illegitimate devices can make you rather unpopular (whether that's fair or not). End users have paid for their unit, and may not even realize it is a pirated copy. They won't hate the shady dealer or the pirate, but you. Remember FTDI, or the TL866 programmer...
 

Online T3sl4co1l

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #59 on: August 03, 2020, 12:36:33 pm »
Part of that can be mitigated with production test.  Nothing too onerous, so as to cost excessive time/labor, but enough to catch the outliers.  Maintain customer confidence with a simple return or exchange policy.

And yes, even I have been a victim of that; just last month, Windows once again decided it knew better than me and updated my Prolific USB-serial driver.  The dongle as far as I know is legit brand name, just old; they obsoleted their own hardware to spite the counterfeiters.  I keep a hard copy of the correct, working drivers on hand... (and, fortunately it doesn't get bricked like that one FTDI case did IIRC).

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Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #60 on: August 03, 2020, 12:38:20 pm »
Most popular MCUs like stm32 have had their code protection features broken many years ago.

It may have been cracked, but it's also been fixed.  No one has succeeded in getting the FW out of the F***Tech FY-6600 despite a *lot* of effort.  My V 3.0 borked itself.  After 9 months of promises I got a replacement V 3.1 front panel which I was going to use to compare spectral purity to my Keysight 33622A.  When I powered it up to do that it borked itself again!

What do shops charge to clone board files?

Reg

 

Offline galileo

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #61 on: August 06, 2020, 08:24:31 pm »
It seems that quite a few people here view open source as a tool for marketing and a form of virtue signalling.
The goal, one of them at least, of open source philosophy is to get a better product. In software that is self evident.
In hardware the goal is the same but the turn around time is greater and there are far fewer people that have the
knowledge and resources to contribute.
The business side of things: Dave's advice is on the spot. There are some unique challenges but nothing that
closed source projects haven't faced. Closed source projects get "cloned" and everyone does it, from large manufacturers
to small shops in Shenzhen.
 
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Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #62 on: August 06, 2020, 10:48:16 pm »
My personal interest is user supportability.  I've got a vast amount of Tek and HP gear most of which has full component level repair data available and ROM dumps are readily available for lots of gear.

Eventually the old gear will become unsupportable and the current OEM practices make repair almost impossible for current products.  Certainly impractical.

People have to earn a living.  If they do not, most will either die or self destruct.

Except for the financial conundrum, I can't see why OSHW can't be an occupational option for those who want to pick their design projects.  No great fortune at the end of the rainbow.  No special virtue.  Just a job where someone is able to design things which someone else will take care of turning that work into the money to support the designer.    That's how traditional business works.

Reg
 

Offline floobydust

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #63 on: August 06, 2020, 11:44:59 pm »
Everyone's forgotten a supposed benefit to OSHW, is the community. Where a group works on the project- not these one-man band projects which we are seeing. With more resources it allows bigger, more complex designs. It's how corporations do product development.

The big thorn(s) seems to be designers willing to put 100's of hours of work, $$$$ FREE into something only to see it ripped off and Copy Co. making profit.
Or the design group has one member rip off the work and IP only to start some venture of their own/money maker. So you would need some legal agreement upfront and the cash to act on it.

The tools - schematic/pcb CAD software are incapable of external group design. Solo work only please. Mentor and Altium fell flat on that when we wanted to have designers across the globe working on a project. That fantasy also died due to different corporate IT departments unwilling to open parts of the servers to other branches across the globe.
Unlike a compiler/linker which can put all software modules together.

I got a chuckle out of KSGER T12 soldering stations, the controller is copy-protected. It outputs a few hex words (unique hardware ID) and you run a key-gen (on a PC) to generate a passcode, which gets saved to EEPROM. It's not perfect but I guess thwarts the locals. Russians wanted Cyrillic text on menus, disassembled the firmware and figured it all out. Quite the trip through the STM32 object code to find the annoying subroutine call.
 

Offline galileo

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #64 on: August 07, 2020, 12:52:16 am »
User supportability is a worthy cause, shame that most manufacturers these days are basically relying on
planed obsolescence as an aditional revenue stream.

OSHW designers are in the same place OSS developers were 2 decades ago. ATM most individual designers
can do OSHW designs as something that will get them further contracts down the line. Venturing into the business side is
a whole new can of worms.

My personal interest is user supportability.  I've got a vast amount of Tek and HP gear most of which has full component level repair data available and ROM dumps are readily available for lots of gear.

Eventually the old gear will become unsupportable and the current OEM practices make repair almost impossible for current products.  Certainly impractical.

People have to earn a living.  If they do not, most will either die or self destruct.

Except for the financial conundrum, I can't see why OSHW can't be an occupational option for those who want to pick their design projects.  No great fortune at the end of the rainbow.  No special virtue.  Just a job where someone is able to design things which someone else will take care of turning that work into the money to support the designer.    That's how traditional business works.

Reg
 

Offline galileo

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #65 on: August 07, 2020, 12:58:35 am »
Barrier to entry into the community is higher, and creating the community is more complex than the typical OSS project, but it can be done.
For example openhpsdr project that has quite a few sub modules
and the commercial side of that project: apache labs.
High end gear, 3K USD range ...


Everyone's forgotten a supposed benefit to OSHW, is the community. Where a group works on the project- not these one-man band projects which we are seeing. With more resources it allows bigger, more complex designs. It's how corporations do product development.

 

Offline floobydust

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #66 on: August 07, 2020, 04:39:35 am »
Did it work out? I looked and it's (opensdr) is under the TAPR Open Hardware License (“OHL”) that seems to be from 2007.
"Some of the HPSDR projects supported by TAPR required a six-figure investment"  :o

"John Ackermann, N8UR, is the author of the TAPR Open Hardware License. John is an attorney who specializes in software licensing. He was assisted by a number of both active developers and lawyers who reviewed innumerable drafts and provided valuable feedback."

His 'Toward Open Source Hardware'  article is interesting read.
 

Offline galileo

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #67 on: August 07, 2020, 04:13:09 pm »
It has been a fairly thriving community for years now, that produced many designs and the comerciall product
based on those designs is a top of the class product so I don't see a problem, am I missing something?


Did it work out? I looked and it's (opensdr) is under the TAPR Open Hardware License (“OHL”) that seems to be from 2007.
"Some of the HPSDR projects supported by TAPR required a six-figure investment"  :o

"John Ackermann, N8UR, is the author of the TAPR Open Hardware License. John is an attorney who specializes in software licensing. He was assisted by a number of both active developers and lawyers who reviewed innumerable drafts and provided valuable feedback."

His 'Toward Open Source Hardware'  article is interesting read.
 

Offline rhb

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Re: Making OSHW design a viable occupation: The OSHW product "Introducer"
« Reply #68 on: August 07, 2020, 05:41:24 pm »
I had a conversation this morning.  I won't go into the details as I've signed an NDA.   But the gist of my response was:

Do you want to design HW or run a company?  Trying to do both is a recipe for misery.  Some people manage it well, but many don't.  Which side of the dillema dominates you?

Perhaps the solution is products which are proprietary for a period sufficient to recover the NRE costs and only then become open source.  I don't know the answer.  I'm just saying we should look for one.  Tek and HP were founded by engineers.  They are now run by accountants and marketing.  Open source is the only way I can see to fight that.

Reg
 
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