When your company launches a new product, there is no doubt that the launch was possible thanks to countless hours and thousands of dollars of research and development. Whether your company produces software, electronics or toys, there’s likely at least some proprietary code, materials or production process that you wouldn’t want your competitors to get their hands on. So how do you prevent them from buying your product, reverse engineering and duplicating it?
The legalities of reverse engineering
In most situations, it’s perfectly legal to reverse engineer a product. There’s nothing in federal or Colorado state law that prohibits someone from buying a product off the shelf, taking it apart, and studying how it works.
Even if they used some pieces of your product in an entirely new product, it could be challenging to prove in court that their use constitutes violation of your patent or copyright – especially if they change your process just enough to make it technically different.
In fact, there are some industries where reverse engineering is protected by law, even for commercial use – such as is the case with mask works of semiconductor chips.
Fighting reverse engineering
Since it’s difficult to formulate a defense to reverse engineering using the law, the best way to fight it is through contracts. This method is especially effective for things such as software.
When you are drafting your End User License Agreement for your software product, it’s a good idea to include a clause that contains a prohibition on the use of reverse engineering software on your product. That way, if someone does reverse engineer it, you will have grounds for a breach of contract claim against them.
If your product is not software, but does contain sensitive electronics, you might consider the additional cost of incorporating measures to make reverse engineering as difficult as possible. This could include putting your product’s microchips and other sensitive technology in an unbreakable casing, making it extremely difficult to access the chip without destroying it.
Reverse engineering by competition is a challenge that every inventor has to face. With the right steps, you can hopefully ensure that your product remains safe from your competitors so that you can recuperate your investment in its development.