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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Free software and open hardware

From: Thomas Harding
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] Free software and open hardware
Date: Sun, 27 May 2012 23:42:11 +0200
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On 27/05/2012 17:17, Niels G. W. Serup wrote:
For some time now, I've been thinking about the role of hardware in my
life and how the concept of freedom applies to hardware.
[mode AOL on] me too [modeAOL off]

Your post is really interesting, in several ways (I really shorten):

  * you implicitely gives levels of freedom on hardware

        * totally closed: no interface specifications disclosed

* open interface specifications => (if fully disclosed) open hardware regarding Free software, still non-free hardware. Allows users to use it (sometimes) as they will, but often not entirely as some parts of internals or "design" are not fully disclosed (optimization, 3d interface most often "closed" on graphic cards, etc).

* fully open : "In any case, for every type of hardware in existence, the knowledge to create at least one "instance" of that hardware type should be free."

I disagree the fact ~ "trivial hardware design can be hidden"

I still have a complete schematic of a transistorized, year 1974, radio receiver (and it still works!). Such radio, TV, washing machines... came with complete schematics until years 1980 (in France, it was sell apart but vendor has obligation to sell it as serviceparts), and parts were not made anonymous/with special vendor marking, but have "standard" identification. So *the freedom to study* is is a freedom which existed previously and *we have been lost*, as so as *the freedom to repair yourself* we could define for hardware... Same story as programs and OSes.

Also, (OpenFirmware/OpenBoot/?) enabled (HP-UX?, Apple?) stuff (can't remain what brand of UNIX enabled servers was, think it was for Motorola and written in forth).

There was (years 2000) also an effort to create a free multi-pipelined modular and parallel-able RISC processor I can't remain the name, but there were many conflicts on design itself between authors and I don't know if it has an issue.

There was also an effort to create an open boot firmware for x86 computers (and its counterparts in Linux kernel), dropping some prehistoric stuff not boot related, which I red announcements of production on a few computers, while I didn't verified myself.

All these efforts are geopardized by patents: even disclosed (a patent *must fully disclose* the process as *exclusivity for a limited time* is the *counterpart of the disclose* (this was the initial intent of patents, to replace "fabrication secret" which caused technology lost). In fact, this is rarely done, especially for "software patents"), technology is still not usable for a time excepted by patent holder/licensed and, moreover, patents "claims" are made just vague enough to block other "methods" until expiration. Peculiarly on drugs, laboratories introduced little changes near patent expiration time, then patents on the "new" formula.

More, most patents are accepted not on "method to produce" but on *effects*, trivial real-world things for software patents (quadrichromic separation, ...), or *on an existence of a thing, without even an idea of what it could produce* (genome).

In the last case (living things/persons), patents are a complete aberration and induces evil processes: the running for patents on modified seeds allows for astronomical gains and lost on ethical (French "principe de précaution", precautionary principle). We gain desert areas, and loss of crops (poison pigs in USA, unusable "modified" cotton and disappear of the "natural one" in India, same for corn around the world...). Same problem on natural medications derivatives where plants most often from rainforest are "patented" without any idea of what they will give. The "unused part" of human genome was patented too in same way... What can we expect now?

* You give also some links I will take a read:
 From here on, I'll use the term "open hardware" to describe hardware
which is built from free designs. This is the term used by --- I'm not sure it's the perfect term, but

Interesting texts about these topics:


Niels G. W. Serup
Thomas Harding

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