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Designed PCB and got ripped off / cop...

:: EPE Chat Zone ≠:: ≠Radio Bygones Message Board :: » EPE Forum Archives 2007-2009 » Archive through 30 June, 2007 » Designed PCB and got ripped off / copied. « Previous Next »

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sounded_simple
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Username: sounded_simple

Post Number: 265
Registered: 12-2005

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Posted on Wednesday, 27 June, 2007 - 06:33 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Hi Guys,

Im totally fuming today.
I just got a phone call from a friend at a trade show to say he saw one of my designs in a certain machine (he had helped test the board during development)

The thing is I never sold my PCB to the manufacturer of the machine and I checked with all customers who said they didnt supply the manufacturer of the machine.

Closer inspection by my freind has revealed that its a copy of my board - components in identical positions and everything but with a different name.

The machine manufacturer told me that he bought the board from "Company X" who are known to me.
"Company X" bought a couple of the boards a year ago as samples and never came back - for obvious reasons.

My immeadiate intention is to call the solicitor and get "Company X" to court.

I didnt copyright or patent the board but I have drawings on file with PCB manufacturers etc.
I dont know how they got the PIC code but I suppose they could have written this as well.

Has anyone any experience of this kind of thing? I have a horrible feeling that the law will be an ass because I didnt register the design anywhere.


P.S. I realise this isnt strictly a "hobbyist" matter but there are a lot of experinced guys on here who may have been through this.
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obiwan
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Post Number: 1811
Registered: 12-2005

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Posted on Wednesday, 27 June, 2007 - 06:40 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I haven't. All the stuff I designed, I pretty much just gave away to the company I worked for, even though I hold the patents for some of them. I got something like $250 or $500 for it, but they got a LOT more. But that's the way it goes.

As for hobby life, if you can persuade the courts you designed it, and did it first, and they got it from copies of the board you sent them, then maybe you have a line in.

Did you tell them anything when they ordered samples?? And what did they say when they asked for them?? That's gonna be a biggie.

But I don't know much about how the law works over there, so I'm not going to be much help.

Stuff like that really sucks eh? You do all the work, and somebody steals and you're sitting there wondering what happened. And if your friend hadn't even seen it, you'd never even know.

Sorry to hear about it.
Do Not Hit The Fly That Lands On The Tigers Head.
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tvmender
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Post Number: 106
Registered: 05-2005


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Posted on Wednesday, 27 June, 2007 - 08:00 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Hi,

Yes I know this feeling well, my design was copyrighted but the risk of loosing against the company in court wasnt worth it. I certainly learnt a hard and lasting lesson.

The problem you have would be proving that you oigionally designed the board without holding any patents or copyrights on the design I am not sure how it would stand up in court.

You certainly have some rights however and in the UK intellectual property copyright is free and automatic as far as I know? My first step would be to gather up all your existing designs and documents.

They did get my software by using a PIC cracking device I was told.

I know this practice is rife within the industry.

I really feel for what you are going through!

Best wishes,

- Tvmender
"Nothing unreal exists"
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obiwan
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Post Number: 1814
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Posted on Wednesday, 27 June, 2007 - 10:22 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Actually, this could happen no matter what.

If you design something and then go get a patent, somebody else can then use your idea and manufacturer it before you and put you out of business.

That's why some people don't even bother with a patent any more.

You should get a patent (outside of the corporate arena) for an idea that is really new and special, and you're sure you can get funding.

Or you just like the idea of having the patent.

They cost money. And as I said, once you do, you're giving away your idea. Sure, they can't legally use it, but still you gave it away. If you're not prepared to fight them, they'll win.

Most of the time, it's best to keep things quiet, and use documentation to keep the idea yours. You know, the intellectual property contracts and such.

Then once you see your product out there, you have a contract to fall back on, and you can show the courts that they indeed ripped you off.

I had/have several ideas that I have not acted on for just such reasons. For one, I think Siemens would still own anything I come up with, for about another three years.

But I spoke to the guy that designed and developed the "Afterburner" for the Nintendo Gameboy. That was the internal screen light you could add, very similar to a laptop light.

He explained much of this to me.

It's just hard to protect yourself without documentation unless you're ready to go to market. Even then, you have to put up with competition if you have a winner.

That's what happened with the Afterburner. After I purchased the Gameboy, I wrote to Nintendo about a light for the thing because it was so bad. And was told that there were no plans for anything at all.


Then came the Afterburner. It was a major hit. The guy made a lot of money off of it. But Nintendo saw it's success, and next thing you know, they had the Gameboy II or what ever it's called, the smaller one with the built in light.

The only thing that changed, was the box, and it now had an internal light.

Soon after that, came the DS. Which was a total re-design. So they just tossed the other one out there to take advantage of the fact that the lights were selling.

The Afterburner soon went to pot. You can still find one or two on eBay, but that's about it.

(too bad too, I gave my last one away, thinking I had one! Now I have the GB with no light for myself!!)

But he had no patents on it. Just designed it, borrowed from everybody and their brothers and went to market. He knew better than to let anybody in on the idea or they would have beat him to the punch.
Do Not Hit The Fly That Lands On The Tigers Head.
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john_becker
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Post Number: 1448
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 01:01 am:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

SS, in the UK we have the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). They would be my first stop - the advice is free. Perhaps you have similar in Ireland?

Certainly intellectual copyright comes into it.

Beware of involving solicitors unless you need to, that can be expensive, and there's no guarantee that the other party will reply to any solicitor's letters, and there's little you can do about that.

Beware too that although a court may find in your favour, that doesnt make the other party pay up. I'm still owed several hundred pounds from something 30 odd years ago - the court ultimately decided the other party was "a man of straw", and couldnt pursue further. So neither did I.

J
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arw
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Username: arw

Post Number: 465
Registered: 04-2005


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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 09:57 am:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

@ Soundedsimple

I do know an excellent specialist copyright/ Intellectual Property lawyer who will wipe the floor with them, if you wanted to go down that route. They are a 200 year old law firm in the UK, they understand technology and source code ownership etc., and they handle some top names as well as very small clients.

They can advise you of the validity of your case. All aspects seem to be in your favour, but if you haven't got all your facts right then it is not cheap and you may face legal costs of £thousands.

If you succeed not only could you get all the current stocks withdrawn/ impounded/ destroyed, you can demand royalties on all their existing sales as well.

I would keep a low-ish profile for now and do this quietly -- if the existing manufacturer finds out and e.g. goes into liquidation then you lose everything.

Please email alan[at]epemag.demon.co.uk if you want a recommendation for a lawyer.


(later) Actually I'm talking to their IP Partner this afternoon so can briefly mention your case.

-- Alan

(Message edited by arw on 28 June, 2007)
ARW

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grab
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Post Number: 506
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 10:12 am:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

It's copyright you're dealing with here, not patent. You can't patent a thing, you can only patent a process or concept.

You also have a problem that reverse-engineering is allowed. So it would be permissible for them to figure out what your circuit does and make theirs do the same. It would even be permissible for them to make the interface the same (placement of switches, controls, etc). But copying the PCB directly wouldn't be allowed. Check whether the traces are actually identical between theirs and yours, or similar enough that it couldn't be chance.

And for the source code, they're allowed to figure out what your code did and write their own to do the same. But they're not allowed to rip yours out of the PIC. For this, you and they would have to demonstrate independent development - that means design docs, backups, history from your version control system if you use one, anything that shows you did a design from scratch.

And dates as well. Their counter-claim could be that *yours* is the copy. You'll need to show that you did yours first.

Graham.
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sounded_simple
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Post Number: 266
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 12:30 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Thanks for the help guys.

I have sent Alan an email and I will share any helpful information that arises.

Grab - does that mean anyone can pick up a product, draw a PCB that is identical, write their own software and we cant do a thing about it?

Wow - thats bad news for those that design for a living.
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terry
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 01:37 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Happens in China all the time !

Terry
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john_becker
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 01:49 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Happens with magazine articles too - as we have learned many times over many years. We also get offered articles etc that have been published elsewhere. We were also offered one of my designs once, complete with an error we had previously overlooked. We have eagle-eyes on such matters :-)

J
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sounded_simple
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Post Number: 267
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 03:55 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Whats most annoying in all this is that I trusted the individual responsible.

We had worked together on projects before and I (as I always do) shared any knowledged that was relevant - including basic electronics and where to get starter kits for PICs.
Thats what I get for being helpful.

I also was very supportive of "Company X" when they went through a tight spot last year, giving them months and months to clear invoices.
A bit saddened by the whole affair.

At least this can be a lesson for everyone else - take steps to protect yourself!
Im doing some research for protecting future projects, I assume some form of contract will be needed.
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obiwan
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Post Number: 1816
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 09:08 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

SS,
No, when you make something, it has to be sufficiently different from other products before you can get a patent on it.

We dealt with this all the time at Siemens. Other companies like Square D were reverse engineering our designs (and we their's). No problem with that.

But one we reverse engineer their design, and find out it's exactly like ours, there's a problem.

But, they can reverse engineer our design, figure out how it works. And then RE-DESIGN it. But it would have to be from the ground up, and be sufficiently differnt.

It can't have something like one diode changed in value or something, or just add a diode that didn't really do anything.

Now, if that added diode really changed the way the circuit functioned, you could patent it as a "new design for product X".

Think about say a mechanical pencil. You can design one and patent it. but that doesn't mean nobody else can design one and patent it, even though those are also mechanical pencils.

As long as the design for the mechanism that changes/moves the lead is different, (new and improved) then you can patent it.

For electronics, that could get really touchy naturally.

One of the problems at Siemens was measuring high currents. Generally we used a current transformer that would also supply power as it measured the current. Very simple.

But at currents of 50,000 or 100,000 amps and more, very strange things happen. Really weird stuff they don't teach you about in school.

Now, I have an idea for a device that will measure currents in that range (I think anyway). But it's based on a rather old theory.

I don't know if that theory (thing, what ever) was ever patented, but I can design a device around it and it will be different enough I should be able to get a patent on it. (and hopefully, really stick it to them!)

Now, they will probably try to copy it and use it. All I have to do is prove that it's still my basic design. The front end is still based on my design. So, when designing it, I need to keep the information for the patent, as basic as possible. Yet still make a functioning unit.

If I got too specific, then it would just be easier for them to make a minor modification and say it's their design.

It's all how you play the game. You have to give enough, without giving enough. Is that clear??

But in many cases, you have to make sure it's worth the fight too. For large corporations it certainly is. But in your case, it really may not be. I could end up costing you an arm and a leg, and what did you get? Your design. It may not sell, it may just open up somebody else's eyes so they redesign it and sell it, and you're left with only your design, one arm and one leg and no sales. See what I mean?

As for company "X", hard lesson, but you have to know (and I'm sure you do now), you can't trust anybody these days.

I have no need or desire to rip anybody off this way. But if somebody wanted me to work with them on something, I would insist on a confidentiality agreement, just to be on the safe side later.

Even though such an agreement would protect them, it would also protect me from being accused later!

Trust no one.....

(but you should also ask yourself, is it possible that this is some sort of mistake?)

Still tough though, I have recently found out that somebody I would not have hesitated to bury bodies for, is really no friend at all.

Best friend I ever thought I had......

I would take Alan up on his offer, and then do my best to ruin them, or own them.
Do Not Hit The Fly That Lands On The Tigers Head.
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paul_goodson
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 10:13 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Hi SS

I guess you may not see it like this

But one consideration maybe!

Your design must have been good enough for them to copy it in the first place.
This is a credit to yourself.

Also the thing that would char me to the core would be the fact that you did trust some one with it in the first place!!!

All the best however this pans out
TC
Paul
The bluntest pencil is better than the sharpest memory!!!!!!!
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john_becker
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Posted on Thursday, 28 June, 2007 - 10:57 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Contract or letter of agreement SS, and acknowledgements betwen both sides. That was one of my concerns when recently someone wanted a CZ participant to help with some commercial design. Trust is wonderful, but always be aware that others may not be as we would prefer them. You cannot just take things on trust in a commercial world, sadly.

J
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grab
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Posted on Friday, 29 June, 2007 - 10:23 am:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

SS, as Obiwan says, it's down to how they do their reverse-engineering. If they analyse the circuit, figure out what it does, and then design another circuit (and software) to do just that based on those principles, they're in the clear. There can even be significant similarities if there are limited ways to do what the circuit does.

But if they admit to reverse-engineering, they have to be able to show that they really did go back to first principles and then re-design it from scratch based on those first principles. A direct one-to-one copy of a PCB is proof they've not done that. If you can get hold of one of those boards and find they're identical to yours, you've got them by the short and curlies...

Graham.
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obiwan
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Posted on Friday, 29 June, 2007 - 10:23 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Yes, one course of first action might be to obtain one of those units with "your" board in it, for evidence. Have somebody else do it and hold it, so they can't go back and say you installed one of your boards in it. Even better would be if "their" board had their name on it (or maybe still had your ID on it!)

And may also be a good idea to delete this thread while this goes on, so as not to tip the hand in play. Never know who's lurking out there ya know.
Do Not Hit The Fly That Lands On The Tigers Head.

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