In 2021, Bucerius Law School and its Center for Transnational IP, Media and Technology Law and Policy (IP Center) joined the interdisciplinary Fab City research consortium led by Helmut Schmidt University (HSU) with the participation of the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH), HafenCity University Hamburg (HCU) and Kühne Logistics University (KLU).
The Fab City movement is a global initiative of a network of cities and regions striving to be more productive, resilient, and open. In a nutshell, a Fab City produces almost everything it needs locally—in a data-based circular economy. To realize this, cities within the global Fab City network exchange data, while energy, raw materials and products circulate within the city itself.
In this way, the Fab City initiative seeks to enable cities to move from a linear “Product In – Trash Out” (PITO) economy to an ecologically sustainable, open-source based circular “Data In – Data Out” (DIDO) economy. Furthermore, the open-source manufacturing infrastructure gives city residents the opportunity to participate in the production process.
The Hamburg-based consortium is regionally and internationally well connected. In 2019, Hamburg became the first German Fab City to join the global network, now counting 49 members. Other members include Barcelona, Paris, Shenzhen, Cambridge, Bali and Oakland. The initiative challenges all members to produce almost everything they consume as self-sufficient entities by 2054.
Legal Analysis of New Value Creation with Open-source Hardware
Bucerius IP Center’s team of researchers focuses on legal aspects of new value creation using Open-Source Hardware (OSH). OSH means hardware development under open-source principles, comparable to Open-Source Software (OSS). Production methods based on OSH are one of the fundamental pillars of the Fab City initiative. The idea is to promote access to technology and innovation as well as enable new value creation mechanisms based on sharing and openness.
Despite its importance both generally and specifically in the context of a Fab City, OSH is a new phenomenon that is not yet sufficiently described from a legal perspective. Prof. Dr. Beldiman and Prof. Dr. Kuschel’s team is exploring the relationship between OSH and intellectual property law, as well as liability law. In the setting of an ongoing interdisciplinary exchange within the Fab City research consortium, they also take into account the latest research results of other academic disciplines.
The Bucerius IP Center’s kick-off event “Open Source Hardware, Fab City and IP Law” was held in May 2022. Martin Häuer (Open Source Ecology Germany e.V.) and Benedikt Seidel (Helmut-Schmidt-University / Fab City Hamburg e.V.) were speakers and Fabian Flüchter (Bucerius IP Center) moderated. The event was well received and ended with lively conversations and new connections at the traditional reception over wine and pretzels.
Currently, Bucerius Law School’s team is finalizing three guidelines to give a broad overview of some of the most important legal aspects of OSH. The first guideline covers protection for OSH-products (such as hardware, software, and documentation) under IP law. The second guideline gives insights into OSH licensing, and the third guideline addresses liability issues.
While the guidelines will address the legal challenges of OSH first from a German national perspective, the team plans to release an additional international version in the future. Next, the team will conduct interviews with Fab City stakeholders, such as Fab Lab managers and makers (users), entrepreneurs, and researchers to gain valuable insights from first-hand perspectives, contributing to a fundamental legal understanding of this developing field.
This research project is funded by Digitalization and Technology
Research Center of the Bundeswehr, which we gratefully acknowledge.