Understanding Open Hardware Licenses: A Guide for Tech Enthusiasts


Open hardware licenses have become increasingly popular in the tech industry, allowing individuals and companies to freely share and modify hardware designs. In this article, we will explore what open hardware licenses are, their benefits, and some common licenses used in the open hardware community.

What Are Open Hardware Licenses?

Open hardware licenses are legal frameworks that enable the sharing, modification, and distribution of hardware designs. Similar to open source software licenses, open hardware licenses provide a set of permissions and restrictions to ensure that the original creator’s work remains open and accessible to others.

By using an open hardware license, creators can release their designs to the public, allowing anyone to use, modify, and even sell the hardware based on those designs. This fosters collaboration, innovation, and community-driven development in the tech industry.

The Benefits of Open Hardware Licenses

Open hardware licenses offer numerous benefits both for creators and users of open hardware designs:

  • Collaboration and Innovation: Open hardware licenses encourage collaboration among designers, engineers, and enthusiasts. By openly sharing designs, individuals can collectively improve and build upon existing hardware.
  • Customization: Open hardware licenses allow users to modify designs to suit their specific needs. This flexibility enables customization and empowers users to create unique solutions.
  • Transparency and Trust: Open hardware licenses promote transparency by providing access to design files and documentation. This fosters trust and allows users to understand how the hardware works.
  • Cost Savings: Open hardware licenses can reduce costs for individuals and businesses. By freely sharing designs, creators eliminate the need for costly licensing fees, which can be a significant barrier to entry.

Common Open Hardware Licenses

There are several open hardware licenses available, each with its own specific terms and conditions. Here are three commonly used licenses:

  1. CERN Open Hardware License (OHL): The CERN OHL is one of the most popular open hardware licenses. It allows for the use, modification, and distribution of hardware designs while ensuring that derivative works also remain open.
  2. TAPR Open Hardware License: The TAPR OHL is another widely used open hardware license. It grants users the freedom to use, modify, and distribute hardware designs while requiring attribution to the original creator.
  3. GNU General Public License (GPL): While primarily associated with open source software, the GPL can also be used for open hardware designs. It ensures that the hardware design and any modifications made to it must remain open and accessible to others.


Open hardware licenses play a crucial role in promoting collaboration, innovation, and transparency in the tech industry. By embracing open hardware licenses, creators can share their designs with the world, enabling others to learn, improve, and build upon their work. Whether you are a hobbyist, entrepreneur, or engineer, open hardware licenses offer a valuable framework for creating and sharing hardware designs.