First, let me try to shed some light on what "hardware project" is, comparing it to a "software project". But before that, let me introduce myself, and introduce what I do in regards to Open Source, and my still active projects.
I am the author of ZPUino, which is a SoC (System on a Chip) targeted at FPGAs although it can be built on an ASIC. ZPU (Zylin CPU , which is the "core" of ZPUino) was not designed by me, in terms of its ISA (Instruction Set Architecture). The ZPU core inside ZPUino is however much different from the original ZPU, featuring a fully pipelined design and yielding very very good performance, whilst maintaining the "small" footprint as originaly designed. It would not be possible to design, implement and "ship" this version of ZPU unless Zylin had a highly permissive license - BSD.
ZPUino merges this enhanced ZPU core (ZPU Extreme core, written by me) with a huge set of devices, as commonly seen in a SoC. So we have, as open-source hardware: UART SPI Timers Interrupt LED HDMI VGA I2C, Memory SRAM SDRAM DDR plus many other eccentric controllers you cannot find in regular SoCs like those in rPI. All those are Open-Source, and the HW design is released on BSD license - so anyone can benefit from them even without giving back. [sorry for lack of commas, the lame filter kicked in]
This is a hardware project. The designs are hardware designs, and despite being written in VHDL, does not make it software. You can not say that, since it's not a printed circuit board, and no wires to see, that it is not a hardware project. Hardware projects describe hardware primitives and interconnections.
Still, they are described using languages, much similar to how software is (for example, VHDL is very close to ADA, which is still widely used in the space industry). PCBs, schematics, can also be described in languages (think EDIF) - as well as their outputs (thing GERBER and DRILL). So there is no much difference between software and hardware here.
Now, back to the "cloning" topic: someone said "chinese clone them all, does not need to be open source" - and this is correct. Your design is not protected just because you did not open it. If you require protection, seek patents and trademarks. And if someone massively clones your HW and SW, you're a hell of a lucky guy you made something people want (cause it does sell, otherwise no one would clone it), you just seem to miss the target price point.
Plus, you can for sure give added value from buying the original product. Arduino (they seem to have reach an agreement today) sells their own HW at 20x price you can buy from china. Still they do sell, and they are not bothered by it - it is expected.
If you want to go open, go open and they clone. If you want to close it, they will open it and clone. How can you benefit from all those clones ? That's the big question.