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The term "open source" originally applied to software projects with publicly available source code for others to modify, improve, and compile. Modified software projects were then often required to release their source code under the terms of the "open source" agreement. Currently, "open source" is also available for hardware projects and includes printed circuit board designs, photomask layouts and mechanical assemblies. While the scientific community requests journal authors to provide enough information for other groups to replicate their work, and patent examiners hold inventors to the same test, the OSH community requires even more details and prefers that they be available online. For example, downloadable electronic design files for printed circuit boards and 3-D printable enclosures make it possible for an engineer to modify an instrument design from the desktop, order the parts from several different manufacturers, and receive a customized kit for assembly - or even have the parts assembled and shipped. The original designers may remain completely unaware of the development or may receive credit or a royalty for their work depending on the terms under which they released the design.
Date of Publication: June 2011