View Full Version : Intelectual Property & Free Hardware

blur xc
October 5th, 2009, 11:29 PM
I work in the mechanical design industry, which means I design hardware. Various kinds, for various markets...

I just finished watching this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNBMdDaYhZA&feature=related and at right around 7:40 he starts talking about how the four freedoms can't specifically apply to hardware, but- no hardware (ok, most hardware) doesn't exist w/o some intellectual property, which is in the form of engineering drawings and various engineering calculations, and spreadsheets, etc...

Every drawing I've ever produced contained this little note somewhere on the title block:

Copyright 2008 by <Insert Company Name> INC. All rights reserved.
Information contained herein is proprietery and CONFIDENTIAL and may not
be used with out express written consent from <Insert Company Name> INC.
In fact- on the first day of every job I've had as a Designer / Drafter, I signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), a confidentiality agreement, and some other document that stated any ideas I come up with while working at whatever company was the property of that company... IDEAS... My ideas are their property. They had a page where I could list ideas that I had come up with before my employment with them what would be exempt from that contract.

Now, it's pretty obvious how the four freedoms, as Richard Stallman states, can't apply to physical objects, at least not until the transporter and replicator are invented, but can it apply to engineering drawings and plans? Sure- you can buy a consumer product and attempt to reverse engineer it- but there's a lot of things that you can't, at least not w/o a great degree of trouble figure out, as in manufacturing processing, materials, material treatments, tolerances, etc...

Could a product be developed under the GPL? I think it'd be considerably harder to develop than software. With software, anyone can compile and test a contribution to the code, but to test a design for a product, someone would need to make prototypes, and labor isn't cheap, especially consider the economy of scale for prototype parts (10pcs vs 1000's...).

Anyway- just had me thinking. In the end, whoever is producing the product would charge what it costs + some extra for his personal profits, and I could imagine if the product contained some form of patented technology, royalties would be due to the patent holder, until the patent expired.


October 6th, 2009, 02:06 AM
A lot of hardware is not only not patented but unpatentable because to anyone with a reasonable amount of skill in that field it would be obvious. That's why there are a zillion cell phone and pc makers, the basic patents on the technology expired a long time ago.

You can make anything for yourself, patented or not, without running afoul of patent law. All a patent does is give someone the right to exclude someone else from the market. The OLPC project uses hardware developed under the GPL, the specs are public and anyone can make them without paying anyone anything.

A lot of NDAs are just crap and do not hold up to legal challenge. Unless your bright idea involves something you are specifically working on for them and you wrote about it in one of your company notebooks or on the company computer, the NDA is meaningless, so are open ended non-compete agreements. The only thing they can really put your feet to the fire over is sharing proprietary company information.

A lot of patents get rescinded because the patent applicant failed to disclose pertinent information, like someone explaining the idea in a public journal or mailing list years before. A lot of Microsofts patents fall into this category, that's why they are so loath to disclose them.