Question on patents, copyrights, etc.

jtr1962

Flashaholic
Joined
Nov 22, 2003
Messages
7,505
Location
Flushing, NY
Here's the problem. I recently worked with a friend who owns a taximeter shop to design a control box for a product we're selling. It's the only one approved thus far by the TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission for those unfamiliar). We don't want any competitors copying our design. We might have a virtual lock on selling 30K+ units if we can keep that from happening.

The device is a small circuit board using a microcontroller. Would a copyright be sufficient to protect the design and firmware? We don't want to go full patent because first of all, I don't think this is original or novel enough that we would even get a patent. Second, there's the cost. From my reading patents cost 4 or 5 figures, copyrights usually 3. I plan to put epoxy over the two chips to make reverse engineering harder, and protect the firmware from being read if the chip has that capability. Our thinking is if the device has Copyright number XXXXXXX on it, it'll scare away most of our competitors from even trying to make a knockoff.

So, what's the best way to proceed here? And do we need a lawyer to get a copyright, or is this something we can do online via Legal Zoom or some similar site?
 

louie

Flashlight Enthusiast
Joined
Aug 31, 2002
Messages
1,110
Location
Seattle
I am not a lawyer nor any expert in this, but other experiences tell me that the kind of folks who will copy your design and sell it do not care about patents or copyrights. They figure they'll make their money and go before you have a chance to find out and try to sue them, which itself is cost prohibitive.

At least with sound recordings, I thought you don't actually have to file. Legally, I believe as soon as the material is "fixed in a tangible medium" and you have documentation as to the date, you are good in a court case. I understand it is better to file. I could be wrong, copyright law is constantly changing. And would you copyright the source code, the board layout, or what?

I would grind off all markings on the chips and epoxy everything - "epoxy patent".
 

jtr1962

Flashaholic
Joined
Nov 22, 2003
Messages
7,505
Location
Flushing, NY
And would you copyright the source code, the board layout, or what?
Probably the circuit itself and the source code.
I would grind off all markings on the chips and epoxy everything - "epoxy patent".
That's the plan regardless. It's easy to figure out the passives like resistors or caps, but without knowing the chips used the device is that much harder to copy. Besides that, even if they copied it, they might not be able to undercut us in price.
 

DRW

Enlightened
Joined
Mar 27, 2022
Messages
374
Location
Michigan
I think since you are already selling it the protection ship (patents, copyright ) has sailed.

I'm not a lawyer either, but a friend of mine is a patent lawyer and helped me with my products.
 

thermal guy

Flashaholic
Joined
Jan 28, 2007
Messages
10,062
Location
ny
I'm not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV but if you can sell 30,000 of anything just do it get your money and be done with it. That quantity would be in millions of dollars.
 

louie

Flashlight Enthusiast
Joined
Aug 31, 2002
Messages
1,110
Location
Seattle
I think you'd have to figure out if a circuit design and source code are copyrightable, I don't know. Even then, as I say, my feeling is crooks will steal it regardless and disappear before you can find out who they are and sue them - which would be expensive for you to try.

I understand patents can take years and money, and you have to reveal a lot of the secret sauce. Again, expensive for you to try to enforce it and the crooks won't care. I do know people with patents, it's a nice feather in their cap.
 

turbodog

Flashaholic
Joined
Jun 23, 2003
Messages
6,425
Location
central time
Find the major players in the market and sell it to them. If it's that good you can probably find an atty to do it on contingency.

History is rife with inventors struggling with execution and getting bypassed.

Take the money and run.
 

jtr1962

Flashaholic
Joined
Nov 22, 2003
Messages
7,505
Location
Flushing, NY
I think since you are already selling it the protection ship (patents, copyright ) has sailed.
We haven't sold any yet. I'm building the first 200 units as we speak. It just got approved by the TLC.
I'm not a lawyer. I don't even play one on TV but if you can sell 30,000 of anything just do it get your money and be done with it. That quantity would be in millions of dollars.
Yes, being that this requires regulatory approval to even be sold, my hope is we'll corner the market before any of our competitors get approval. Besides that, they may not be able to undercut us in price anyway.

On my friend's end, yes, this is probably well into the 7 figures profit if we get the bulk of the sales. For me, probably low to mid 6 figures. I'll basically be making and testing the units.
I think you'd have to figure out if a circuit design and source code are copyrightable, I don't know. Even then, as I say, my feeling is crooks will steal it regardless and disappear before you can find out who they are and sue them - which would be expensive for you to try.
Yeah, at this point I'm probably just going to go with the "epoxy patent" and a few other tricks to send any would-be copiers down the wrong path. In the end, any engineer worth their salt can probably make a device which does the same thing, but time is on our side as we're the first to get approval.

The source code isn't leaving my PC so that's not an issue. If we get to the point where we're selling more than I can make at home, I'll have the parts loaded on the PCBs in China, except for the two chips. Those are quick and easy for me to install with solder paste and a hot air gun. The chips basically ARE the device, so that keeps their identity known only to me.
I understand patents can take years and money, and you have to reveal a lot of the secret sauce. Again, expensive for you to try to enforce it and the crooks won't care. I do know people with patents, it's a nice feather in their cap.
I never even considered a patent for this. I have my name on a patent for another project we did together years ago. It's a nice thing to talk about, but in the scheme of things it probably doesn't mean much.
Find the major players in the market and sell it to them. If it's that good you can probably find an atty to do it on contingency.
For now this is pretty much a niche product for the NYC taxi market but if we figure out alternate uses for it that's not a bad idea. Let someone else have the headaches of making/selling it. Give me and my friend a buck or so for each one.
History is rife with inventors struggling with execution and getting bypassed.
Story of my life. Stuff I invent might not have much of a market, or someone else invents something similar and beats me to it.
Take the money and run.
That's kind of the idea here.
 

turbodog

Flashaholic
Joined
Jun 23, 2003
Messages
6,425
Location
central time
If competitors can't undercut you on price, then, as the first to market, your price is WAY too low.

New stuff always commands high margins.

And I'd expect costs to come down as your r&d/mfg streamlines, further pushing profits upward.
 

jtr1962

Flashaholic
Joined
Nov 22, 2003
Messages
7,505
Location
Flushing, NY
I'm not sure of the margins here. My friend is a smart businessman. He's run the shop as his own personal business since 1990 after the parent company gave up on it. He's likely pricing in enough of a margin so that he can come down, and still make a decent profit, even if competitors show up. We already know that game. Start off high. It's much easier to come down in price than to go up.
 

bykfixer

Flashaholic
Joined
Aug 9, 2015
Messages
20,722
Location
Dust in the Wind
In the 80's I invented a couple of things for asphalt paving, spoke with a contractor about it and he had a mechanic build prototypes. Next thing you know they were in production. So not only did the guy rip me off but he ripped off the mechanic too. But as a karmic fate would have it somebody else had even better ideas about a year later so my ideas are no longer being built.

One day I invented rolls of tinted window shading only to see the stuff in home stores the summer we were discussing making the stuff. I invented a hard hat brim extender and saw somebody else doing it that same summer. It started out as a hunk of cardboard cut into a circle with a hole in the center to slide it over said hard hat but the MSA company started making them out of plastic with a tinted visor on the front.

My favorite idea that got stolen was by former Senator Chuck Robb. The self sticking stamp. I wrote him a letter one year about a budget package put forth by Clinton and said "oh and by the way I'm sick and tired of getting my mail returned because the stamp I have to lick fell off again, make 'em into stickers and I'll vote for you". He did, but he did not get re-elected.
 
Top