Rc2014 kit - popular enough to give up the day job

The rc2014 backplane computer kit by Spencer Owen is remarkable for its versatility - initially a Z80 platform, it also supports 6502, 6809, and even 68000 CPUs - and also for being a full time going concern, showing the vitality of retro computing. Alan Cox recently posted a majorly expanded system over on diaspora which demands a full size photo:

This machine has everything - see his post for details - including one free slot!

Spencer’s journey to the rc2014 kit started with a breadboard remake of the zx81, or rather, something in between a zx81 and a zxspectrum. See this video:


Sigh Now I have to put getting my RTC board working on my RC2014 back on the project list.


i looked at doing some RC2014 style accessories, however, i was really put-off by the vague licensing and trademark requirements for the RC2014 compatible items. i was the licensing was more straight forward and used a well known license…

I’m certainly in favour of well known licenses. But this bit seems pretty clear to me:

Note that “RC2014” is a registered trademark, so you are not allowed to call your module “RC2014 [thingy] Module” or use the RC2014 logo. However, feel free to mark your modules as “Designed for RC2014”

Yea, i ran it by my lawyer and he said that statement is of zero legal value. if i am investing time and money in a product, i’d want to have a lot more assurances as to my legal standing and protection…

Ah, sounds like an impedance mismatch, AKA cultural differences. Spencer does events here and there, now and again, and if you were in the UK you could no doubt have had a beer with him and been able to decide whether or not you could collaborate or contribute. But there’s quite a distance in this case, I think.

I find it very encouraging that a backplane computer kit, with no specific compatibility, has been as popular as it has. Also encouraging that Spencer’s (informal) position is very open to people making their own, or making addons. Evidently his approach hasn’t resulted in a major loss of revenue for him, and nor has it prevented a handful of side-projects by others which made compatible boards.

It’s still not great that you feel locked out of this particular ecosystem, but there may not be an answer to that.

it’s less of cultural and more legal. there is nothing currently that would prevent Spencer from announcing that anyone making a RC2014 shaped board must now pay a royalty on it. I am sure Spencer is an honorable man and would abide by his hand shake, but as business owner, i can’t afford to take that chance. as a side note, i did try to contact Spenser via email multiple times to discuss this with him and got zero response.

don’t get me wrong, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if i didn’t think the design and implementation wasn’t awesome! it’s perfectly fine for people making a few boards and such because the risk is minimal, but as a business i have to think differently. if i am investing thousands of dollars in a project, i want to make sure i will make my money back, and not open myself up to legal troubles. i know of at least two small batch manufacturers that have specifically shelved RC2014 compatible projects because of legal concerns.

the solution is simple: just publish an open specification. yes there are bits and pieces of the specification on his pages, but there is no “legal specification”. i use MikroBus all the time, and the lawyers have zero problem with it, because it’s usage is clearly defined. you can have a look at the MikroBus specification here: https://www.mikroe.com/mikrobus#mikrobus-spec

speaking from someone who makes “products”, the lack of a formal written open specification is inhibiting larger adoption of the RC2014 format…