European study examines the economic impact of open source

Dear open hardware folks,

Lots of things happened in this strange year. As communicated before, Harris Kenny the founder of OSHdata stepped away from the OSHdata project and a new team positioned themselves to start working on the site. In the upcoming year, we want to create regular posts to inform you about new trends in the domain of open hardware development. So, before this year ends, we want to call your attention to the study report about the economic impact of open source. Going forward with the idea of OSHdata, we would start by simply bringing this landmark study to your attention, briefly dissect its main findings related to open hardware and simply promote the great work done.

We hope you enjoy the read and the OSHdata team wishes you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

European study examines the economic impact of open source

On behalf of the European Commission, a study was conducted to examine the economic impact of open source developments on the European economy. For the first time, software and hardware were considered together. The report of the study was published in September 2021 and can be downloaded here.

Although the study that was commissioned by the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology of the European Commission (DG CONNECT) explicitly aims to examine the connection and complementarity between Free and open source software and hardware, it remains focussed on software and hardly provides any new empirical findings for the hardware sector. The most of the data presented and the large majority of the respondents in the conducted stakeholder survey are located in the software sector.

Nevertheless, the study provides anecdotal evidence for the success of open hardware. It cites the case of Arduino and the dynamic development of 3D printing as examples. With regard to hard facts however, the study primarily draws on OSHdata, which is complemented by an analysis of the start-up database Crunchbase, to describe the development of the sector.

The analysis of the few open hardware start-ups shows that only a small number are based in Europe compared to the USA, but also to Asian countries. Overall, only 61 open hardware businesses were identified in the database between 1998 and 2019, of which only six companies were founded in Europe. Apparently, the peak of start-up activities was reached in 2017. Since then, the number of open hardware start-ups registered in Crunchbase has been declining.

The picture looks quite different with regard to the certification according to the OSHWA standards. OSHdata provides information on the technological fields in which developments are taking place and how the activities are distributed. Since the launch of the certification programme in 2016, there has been a significant increase in the number of certifications. As of May 2020, there are over 900 certified projects from 37 countries. The majority of certified projects come from the USA, but European companies hold almost a quarter of the certificates. Within Europe, Germany leads the way, but the European capital of open source hardware is Plovdiv in Bulgaria.

The report reveals a glaring lack of reliable data for the field of open hardware. To date, there is simply no systematic survey of the diverse activities in this field. It is nevertheless a great success for the movement that – in contrast to the first Open Source study in 2017, which focused exclusively on the software sector – the impact of open hardware is now being considered at the European level. The study surely helps to increase the visibility and contributes to the recognition of the economic relevance of open hardware.

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