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  • Copyright on spare parts

    I've been wondering about copyright on mechanical design. In the auto industry, you have multiple vendors selling replacement parts (e.g. break parts) which are dimensionally identical. They are essentially copying the original design. Is this legal?

    I was told by someone in a fashion business that garments cannot be copyrighted. In other words, a factory in China can start making jeans which is dimensionally identical to a Levi's jean and it's legal. Only the trademark is respected and guarded in the industry. I find this very strange.

    Any comments?

    Albert

  • #2
    A copywrite protects intellectual property and not an item, that is where patents come in. So you can't make a copy of the part drawing, but you could measure the part yourself and make a knock-off. By the way, the drawing you made from the part now becomes your copywrited drawing It's the same with computers, the software is intellectual property, but the hardware is not.
    A design can be patented, which would prevent you from selling that design without the permission of the patent holder, but the parts can be made and sold individually, but not as a whole.

    In my industry, there is alot of this. The OEMs would like to stop it, but there is nothing they can do.

    Here is a link to the Copywrite office FAQ page http://www.copyright.gov/faq.html#q45

    Mike

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    • #3
      Don't forget reverse engineering you can disasemble a patented device see how it works and basicly build your own but use a different design to acheive the same end.Then it can be argued that it is your own unique design.Foreign companies do it all the time.Sad but true.
      I just need one more tool,just one!

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      • #4
        Albert
        It is a federal offense in the US and probably Canada to reverse engineer products. So unless a patent runs out on a device, anyone making a replacement must either get written permission or a licsense to reproduce that item.

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        • #5
          The federal offense thing isn't quite true, depends on the "thing".

          Since Mr Himmler's buddy J Ashcroft, got in, maybe there are some more laws. But, in every software agreement is a no-reverse engineering clause. That would not be in if there were a blanket law.

          AFAIK you can reverse engineer anything you want. Sales of the "thing" may be controlled by patents or copyrights.

          When you get to "proprietory information" it is muddier. DEpends how you got it. If you stole it, you go to jail. If you thought it up on your own, and it is just a trade secret of another company, not protected by patent etc, you should be clear.

          Design patents are great for things such as electronic connectors (Neutrik "Speakon" is an example, that is a tradematk, btw, and design patented in EC) or snything else where the inportant feature is the form, even if the components are not patented.

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          • #6
            I can understand things that are patented, but let's take something like brake rotor. If Ford make a new car that uses 7 lug nuts, can a third party start making replacment rotors which is dimensionally identical to the original part without permission from Ford?

            Albert

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            • #7
              Patents and copyrights have one nice about them, you can license the product out for money.

              About 20 years ago, a company was producing a little PC board that was used in many DEC computers. Then another company produced a knock off of that board, with some changes in the circuit design and couple of other little details. When the company that DEC normally bought from couldn't make the boards, that company bought from the knock off place. The knock off place figured out that they could sell directly to DEC, which they did. The knock offs fit the factory specs, but didn't copy the factory design, so it was legal. So the orginal PC board manufacturing company, bought a license to produce the knock offs, because they required a liitle gold in their manufacturing. These were not companies in China, they were both in California.

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              • #8
                Perhaps I'm wrong but here goes.

                Unless you have agreed not to (as in a software license), you can reverse engineer anything. The act of reverse engineering, in and of itself, is not illegal. The software companies require this agreement because it is so common for their products to be reverse engineered. One way around this if to develope a set of VERY DETAILED specs for the product and turn them over to a design team who has no knowledge of how the original product was designed. I believe this is referred to as a "clean room" approach. Then, anything this team comes up with is your property. Unless it infringes on a patent.

                Selling a reversed engineered product is another question. First, you must be certain that you do not infringe on ANY current patents. I say current because the things DO run out after a period of time. After that there are still other worries. Since you used a "clean room" design approach, there should be no copywrite problems unless one or more copywrited items is an actual part of the item being sold as in a novel or book of poems or text book, etc.

                However, thanks to the software industry we now have concepts like "look and feel". This may not apply to a mechanical or electrical or electronic device, but for something like software, you better think about it.

                All in all, it's a complicated question. In many instances, the lawyers are argueing the issue for years after the product is obsolete and no longer being sold.

                And there are other ways to get around it. For instance, it appears to be perfectly legal to rebuild an OEM part like a starter or alternator.

                It also seems that differentg industries have different histories concerning what they will tolerate and not. The software industry has been one of the more agressive in protecting it's rights. But even here, most of the major players have backed off on issues like copy protection because the buyers just wouldn't tolerate them. (OK, a major acception to this is the computer game market where every teenager is using all of his/her idle time to make illegal copies and break the protection schemes). What I am trying to say is that a lot of this is not just the letter of the law but the history of the industry. Hence, someone making replacement auto parts may have clear sailing while copying a computer board might land you in court. You need to know the area in which you intend to operate. And even the auto manufacturers may fiercely defend a new and novel device, with or without a patent.

                Paul A.

                Make it fit.
                You can't win and there is a penalty for trying!

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                • #9
                  You can build or made something from reverse engineering a product for yourself and not get into trouble. If you give it away and you have no personal gain you can do that also.

                  But remember that we live in the country of lawsuits. For doing a reverse engineered product and not making money from your efforts you can loose money by defending your self in court. Even if you win, you lose by the bankrupting amount you spent on your defense.

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                  • #10
                    Albert, unless the 7 lug brake rotor is patented by Ford, you can make an exact copy of it. Ford must apply for a patent to protect their design, so if someone comes up with the greatest invention in the world and they don't patent it, everyone else is free to make a copy of it and sell it themselves.
                    This is not something foreign coutries only do, it's very common here. For example, I was at a trade show today where one company makes an exact replacement for another companies pumps, both made in the US, including the internal parts so you don't have to get rid of your spares. I could name many American companies off the top of my head that make replacement parts for industrial machinery that are exact copies of the original part. No company would tolerate this if it was illegal, it costs them too much business. Software is an entirely different category and is covered by copywrite law. It is considered intellectual property and treated the same as a book.

                    That doesn't mean you won't get sued if you make a copy, companies are trying to rewrite the law through the courts, but the chances of them winning are slim to none.

                    Mike

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