“Oregon board said Järlström’s research amounted to practicing engineering without a license. In a 2014 letter, the board told Järlström that even calling himself an “electronics engineer” and the use of the phrase “I am an engineer” were enough to “create violations” that could result in a $500 fine.
Järlström fought back. With the help of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that often challenges ridiculous licensing laws, Järlström took his case to federal court. The trial was a disaster for the licensing board, which was forced to concede that its attempt to silence Järlström “was not narrowly tailored to any compelling state interests.” The board refunded the $500 fine, was prohibited from targeting Järlström again “for his speech about traffic lights and his description of himself as an engineer except in the context of professional or commercial speech,” and got a public dressing-down from Judge Stacie F. Beckerman.
Beckerman’s ruling ordered the Oregon board to restrict its policing of licensing issues exclusively to individuals who are working as professional engineers—that is, being hired to do engineering work—rather than simply practicing engineering skills. That seems like a necessary restriction, considering the board’s history of investigating everyone from amateur engineers like Järlström to political candidates who promised to “engineer solutions” and even a Portland magazine that credited a local leader for being the engineer, metaphorically, of a new bridge project in the city.”