It is true that some of the early open-source hardware (OSH) work on OR1K was done in Slovenia and other parts of eastern Europe by students, but in general the contributions have come from all over the world including the western hemisphere.
Nonetheless rather like interns who are prepared to work for free to get trained and make connections with prospective employers the OSH project participants are getting some processor experience under their belt in an environment where they can do as little or as much as they like.
I guess the 'free' market will out. Those OSH developers may be shooting themselves in the foot but if they don't do it, someone else will.
I'm going to play devil's advocate and say that Open Source Hardware is accelerating job-losses in the West. Why hire a digital designer here to design a SOC, when you can get a worker overseas to patch together a SOC from O.S. code? He doesn't have student loans to pay off, his education was probably a lot cheaper, his bills lower, and his contributions to the open source movement NIL.
Anyone who contributes to Open Source HW in a significant way is shooting himself (and his comrades) in the foot.
The open source hardware world is making progress, but it is where software was 15-20 years ago. Commercial examples include Gaisler (LEON) and Lattice Semi (LM32). One key issue is licensing: all open source today is based on copyright law, which might just about stand up for FPGA. However ASIC manufacture requires a different type of contract to protect open source rights. John Ackermann's TAPR OHL (http://www.tapr.org/ohl.html) is a good first attempt.
There are now plenty of open source front end EDA tools (take a look at the talks at the last UK/Netherlands Design Verification Club, http://www.tandvsolns.co.uk/downloads/DVClub-Sept-2010/). With FPGA manufacturers typically bundling their synthesis tools, hardware development need be no more expensive than software development.
(Declaration of interest: I work on the OR1K and OR2K projects)
The nature of hardware development would require substantial amount of equipment and kits. So opensource hardware development seem to be not growing so much in the past few years till now.
While opensource software development would benefit much for the end-user, opensource hardware development seems to have little benefit.
Good movement in Open Source Hardware Platform, but hardware developer communities are not that much ethical and well developed that this movement will come to a great success.
I have never seen any of the company or developer sharing their successful design to others, even Intel is not providing complete data sheets of processors. As the design only is the monopoly for them.
This is my opinion, others may differ.
Because of the collaborative nature of the development, I would expect quite a bit of innovation. But, can it be done so that it becomes a viable alternative to the multicore designs on the drawing board now from the main processor makers? Probably not, and therefore, it may not find a reasonable market position. I hope I am wrong.