Openflexure license and commercialization

Hi all, I am happy to find out this forum to discuss about this microscope. I have successfully assembled a openflexure microscope for bright field imaging. My research work is in structured illumination microscopy and my lab has a patented component that can put structured illumination (SI) into current microscope. The lab may spin off a startup company on this SI component and it will be great to do this SI component with openflexure microscope. I am thinking we can sell the openflexure as a kit in the US (I know waterscope is doing this too in UK) and then sell our SI component kit (if of interest to others). Anyway, I am just curious whether CERN OH license allows selling such kit.


Waterscope did sell a few kits in the past. We recently started OpenFlexure Industries to sell some kits in the UK but we are still in the process of getting set up.

CERN OHL definitely allows you to sell kits/assembled products. As a reciprocal license if you distribute a modified version you should release the source/design of the modified component under the CERN OHL. Part of the CERN OHL states that you will not enforce patents.

However you can sell OpenFlexure components or an assembled OpenFlexure, and also sell your own proprietary structured illumination add-on.

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Anyway, I am just curious whether CERN OH license allows selling such kit.

Since I’m an IP broker I’ll answer your question in 2 steps.
a) The CERN most recent OH hardware 2.0 license has a strong and a weakly reciprocal version. The main difference being in that any available component (being part, sub-assembly, library or code) must have sufficient rights (even NDA) and information to be made by the recipient. The difference between strong and weak is that the weakly reciprocal only applies to physical hardware, whilst the strong insists on any necessary digital toolchain (eg FPGA bitstream)

So you could use a weak license with a side license on your SI add-on to grant the pledge of non-patent enforcement (doctrine of first sale) along with any necessary precautions you see fit.

b) The business model … open source struggled in the beginning but now there are well-accepted service models (eg freemium) or service tiers. Hardware has been problematic with drivers being black-box to survive in the cut-throat electronics supply-chain. What your startup are probably worried about are submarine patents or cuckold patents where an unscrupulous subsupplier takes your hard work and patents a petty variant in countries where you didn’t expect (expensive for multiple jurisdictions), then screws with your reputation or blocks your expansion. The solution is to think deep and hard about where the real-value of your technology is … it may be in the consulting to get the right engineering setup or post-image processing. If you want things to be trade secrets then you have to carefully audit what info you release and have the right legal agreements with your suppliers and distributors.

The above is not legal advice as I don’t know what country you’re from (I’m only familiar with Anglosaxon law) but patents generally act better as shields rather than swords so don’t get too attached when bad actors refuse to play by the rules (which is where litigation insurance comes in).

Thanks @drllau. For clarity we are using CERN OVL v1 which I believe is closer to the strong reciprocal license.

It is also worth noting that “available components” in the CERN OHL either need to have the information to enable it to be made or to be sourced for use.

Stepping back a bit,
a) CERN is a unique organisation, many transient staff and highly complex engineering … when something goes wrong, you need enough technical info (from perhaps kaput vendors) to find and fix flaws … hence their reciprocal license was intended to encourage suppliers (and ipso facto purchasing dollars) to be “open” … xref EU right to repair
b) the patent system was never intended for todays elaborately transformed machines where you need pieces from dozens of submanufacturers. As such trade secrets have become more important in a competitive market and tying maintence agreements to sales is a common tactic to take advantage of information asymmetry
c) so I suspect the long-term result is that marginal costs (of subsituting) should match marginal utility (incremental engineering performance) which opens up alternative sourcing arrangements. Note that just because technical info is avail, doesn’t mean it is useful (as anyone reading a Japanese tech manual knows)

So whilst the CERN-OVL license works well in their domain, hard to see it applying to say consumer electronics.