[Discuss] Protecting ourselves from getting sued?

Matt Maier blueback09 at gmail.com
Sat Mar 7 16:19:37 UTC 2015

Hey Alex, this isn't legal advice (and it's based on US law anyway), but
the way I understand it is that the design files and the idea embodied in
the design are different.

As long as you create your own design files from scratch you don't have to
worry about copyright.

Whatever you physically make is subject to patent law. It's possible for
anyone with a patent similar to what you build to sue you for infringement
and make you defend yourself in court. You can get around any patents they
might have just by building something slightly different, however, if they
sue you then you'll still have to spent time and money in court proving
that you didn't infringe (or settle before it gets to court).

It's unlikely that any of your projects will be so successful that they'll
attract the attention of a patent holder. Even if they do notice you, they
might decide what you're doing isn't a problem (for a variety of reasons).
In the unlikely case a patent holder does take legal action the most likely
first step is some kind of stop-doing-that letter. One of the strengths of
open source hardware is speed and flexibility, so you can just stop selling
that thing, or change the design so that it no longer infringes. If it's a
stable design that's selling well then you might just reach an agreement to
license the patent so you'd just pay the patent holder a fee for each unit.

Actually going to court is a last resort that you are unlikely to end up
choosing. You'd probably only do it if you get some outside agency to
defend the case pro bono. If it's a really interesting or high profile or
legally significant case then you've got a chance of getting an ally like

Keep in mind that the open source hardware definition doesn't allow you to
technically call your thing open source if you include a noncommercial
clause in your license. That means that anybody likely in a position to sue
you also probably has the option to just clone your thing and sell it

So the potential futures are a lot more complicated than just getting
dragged into court. That's a good thing :) Hell, if somebody does start
giving you trouble you might even be able to get the OSHW community to
shame them into backing down.
On Mar 7, 2015 2:07 AM, "Alex J V" <alex at makeystreet.com> wrote:

> Hi,
> Context - We are building an open source electric unicycle. Part of the
> project we are building open source BLDC motor driver that is capable of
> handling 500W continuous power.
> The question here is there are tons of patents on BLDC motor driver. We
> are not copying anyones work per say, but given the fact that motor drivers
> have been around for a long time, as coincidence there is a lot of chance
> that our design could potentially be very similar to one of these patents
> and infringe them. At that point, will be get sued? If so, what do we do in
> order to make sure that does not happen?
> As a small team it is possible that we will not be sued, but the intention
> is to manufacture at some point of time in scale. At that point, how can
> open source hardware be not sued?
> The question boils down to "We would love to putting our designs as open
> source, but what should we do to not get sued?"
> --
> Alex J V
> @alexjv89
> www.makeystreet.com/maker/alex
> Find modular open source hardware for your project @ makeystreet.com
> in.linkedin.com/in/alexjv/
> +91- 886 105 3989(India)
> _______________________________________________
> discuss mailing list
> discuss at lists.oshwa.org
> http://lists.oshwa.org/listinfo/discuss
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