Stay at home
- Aug 16, 2012
Here is a paragraph from a recent textbook published by Springer which succinctly sums up much.Thanks for this thoughtful post.
I think a lot of times on this forum people use "reverse engineering" without understanding what it is and that it isn't some magical way around patent infringement.
As I understand it, and as you state in your post, reverse engineering simply means deconstructing something to figure out how it works. As photographers, most of us have reverse engineered images that we like, figuring out the lighting, focal length, point of view, processing, etc.
Roger's team at Lens Rentals often do tear downs of cameras to see how they work and how they are constructed. They are essentially reverse engineering the bodies, but they are not violating any patent because they aren't making new cameras from what they learned. As you point out, it's how you use that information that matters.
What I have tried to explain, and I hope you would agree, is that for patents it really doesn't matter how you get there. One could have a "Eureka" moment in the middle of the night, get up and design a new mirrorless lens system without any awareness or improper copying of Canon's system and still be in violation of patents if the end result is too similar to what has already been patented.
The ability to reverse engineer a product has been important for as long as technology has existed. A vital activity in most branches of industrial design and production has been to acquire samples of the products sold by competing companies and pick them apart....
“Reverse engineering for the purpose of understanding interfaces is largely uncontroversial. The reasons for doing it are clear and they are generally compatible with the interests of society. An exception to this is when a company intentionally keeps its user interface secret for commercial reasons or for reasons related to security. Whether reverse engineering that interface is acceptable then becomes a legal as well as a moral question. In 1990, Sega Enterprises released a gaming console called Genesis. Its strategy was to let Sega and its licensed affiliates be the only developers of games for it. A California-based company called Accolade reverse engineered the interface of the Genesis gaming platform and successfully developed and sold games for it. In 1991, Accolade was sued by Sega for copyright infringement. The court ruled in Accolade’s favour because it had not copied any of Sega’s code and because of the public benefit of the additional competition in the market that Accolade represented. Today – several decades later – secrecy regarding interfaces and challenges of such secrecy through reverse engineering still take place. The jailbreaking of mobile phones bears witness to this phenomenon.”
What that means is that anyone can both legally reverse engineer the interface code between a lens and a camera and then write their own version of the code that does the same job. The defense of "reverse engineering" fails if the proprietary code is copied, or it was obtained by deception or it has been in breach of end user agreement, as has been ruled in other cases. And that sums up what I have said all along in several posts.
Patent law is there both to protect the rights of the patentee and also to protect the interests of society. It doesn't like oppressive monopolies. What that means for us here is that as far as the physical mount on the lens is concerned, any lens maker can make the hardware to fit onto the RF mount without any restrictions as the law wants competition for accessories. Then, they can genuinely reverse engineer the interface software and write their own code. I have no idea what Viltrox has done that is in breach of Canon's patents, but they must have done something.