I use the GPLv3 for my applications and the LGPLv3 for my libraries. In a similar fashion I'd like to use them for my open-source hardware projects (GPL for schematic and PCBs, LGPL for schematic symbols and PCB modules).

The Open-source hardware wikpedia page mentions that:

Rather than creating a new license, some open-source hardware projects simply use existing, free and open-source software licenses. These licenses may not accord well with patent law.

This makes me worried and I'm quite lost in the legal talk. I don't necessarily insist to the (L)GPL for open-source hardware if it's not suitable but I do insist to a share-alike license.

Is the (L)GPL suitable for open-source hardware? If not, please suggest viable share-alike alternative licenses and possibly highlight their pros/cons.

2 Answers 2


I ended up choosing the GPL / LGPL for hardware, too. I asked this question on some other sites and the following answer was spot on:

I spent quite a bit of time looking into this, and there is not really a useful solution. For some general background try https://www.publicknowledge.org/news-blog/blogs/open-source-hardware-and-law1

In a nutshell, GPL (and all other software licenses) rely on software being something that can be subject to copyright. In general hardware can not be copyrighted, because copyright is only granted to creative or artistic works, but with some weird exceptions like software, IC masks, yacht designs (!). "Useful articles or utility works" are not generally subject to copyright, but some powerful industrial lobbies got some concessions, as otherwise a software "work" would not be protected under IP laws, although specific software algorithms can be patented.

So anyhoo, software is an oddity in copyright laws, but "copyleft" licenses can turn copyright law to its advantage. There is no such ability with hardware. The only way to protect a hardware design is to embody a patentable idea that the design relies on. "Data files" for engineering use are not software, and are not "creative" (in terms of the law), so it is unlikely they have any form of protection. That doesn't stop many companies attempting to claim copyright on data, the threat of legal action even if unfounded in law is often enough to scare people off.

Legally, you can use copyright to protect your drawings, but you can't protect the actual circuit, nor the PCB layout, and therefore you can't insist on share-alike clauses to be followed. What we are left with is a "social contract", i.e. a statement that a design is shared for general use but please be nice and share your modifications.

There are some OSHW specific licenses, such as CERN, OSHWA, OHANDA, these have the same drawback as GPL, copyright gives little protection to hardware designs. But they can be a nice way to stamp your project as being in the OSHW spirit.

tldr; use GPL or LGPL, CC-BY-SA, MIT, etc as you like, as a statement of intent, but realise they have little legal teeth. Other OSHW oriented licenses are equally ineffective to protect or control the use of electronic or hardware designs.

The above answer was posted to https://forum.kicad.info/t/using-the-l-gpl-as-an-open-source-hardware-license/1925/2

Some other useful articles on the subject:

  • seven years and the links are broken..
    – Eineki
    May 31, 2022 at 7:38

Hi and thank you to Lazlo Monda for providing the close to useful answer,well the main reason coz LGPL hardware cannot be used for protecting your creations its mainly because lawmakers are a bunch of corrupted " a.s.s.e.s "for example lets say i assembled an AC generator without the need of a gasoline motor,but instead using an electric motor, and do not want to patent it coz my idea is knowledge should be available to everyone without paying a dime,well in my modest opinion few things would happen if my generator is protected by a license like LGPL "at least from my point of view":

1 Governments world wide will lose alot of money if we citizens quit paying electric bills.

2 multinationals and corporations producing electricity and selling to citizens would go bankrupted in a very short time if at least half of the citizens on their home had 1 generator i just described above.

Those just mentioned are the reality of facts,useless turn a blind eye on reality and facts.

Last but not least,well patenting a generator that doesn't need a gasoline motor to generate electricity would be sunk immediately coz there are way too much financial interests at stake starting the interests of oil companies ending with the interests of corrupted politicians and public employees that work on patent offices.

Last thought well we live in a world that is basically driven by capitalists like JP Morgan Goldman & Suchs,i do not believe that those 2 just mentioned would allow a nobody like me to spread the knowledge a they end up loosing alot of money.

Thank you again for sharing what you found Lazlo.

  • 5
    Hello and welcome to Open Source StackExchange! That said, you might want to browse a few of our basic help pages to better understand the site; this isn't a discussion forum, it's a Q&A board. I accept that there is an answer in what you wrote above, but it's a bit ranty in places, and there's a lot of chatty stuff as well. The community will take its own view on what you've written, and express it by voting, as it should; but if you do start getting downvotes, it may be worth considering that both the content and the tone are responsible.
    – MadHatter
    Mar 30, 2021 at 8:20

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