View Full Version : What do you do when your project surfaces commercialy?

09-09-2006, 01:11 AM
First off, this is not a rant. I'm simply asking the community for advice. Half of my first major SX project has shown up as a commercial product by a major manufacturer. Is this something thats not worth pursuing? Is it even pursuable? The shift controller section of·the NOS/Shift controler has appeared manufactured by Schnitz Racing in a nearly identical version. The only major change I can see from the posted version is that the shift solenoid delay time was added to the dip switches as an adjsutable setting instead of being hard coded into the program. Other than that, its identical in function, wiring, and adjustment. Switch settings are slightly different but functionality and adjustment procedure are identical.

the link to the original project is here

The schnitz product here.

Any advice would be appreciated.


The Captain
09-09-2006, 01:36 AM
Remember, the GPL was invented for things like this. You release the code/stuff under the GPL and state that it can't be used commerically or sold for profit. Then when they do sell it, you SUE THE LIVING S#$% out of their A##$%!! http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/devil.gif http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/devil.gif http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/devil.gif

09-09-2006, 02:52 AM
Good news and bad news:

Good news: with invent of the internet, you clearly have your technology printed with clear timestamps and date information. IF you open up their box, review the circuit, find it identical to yours, and find that it was designed after yours... you have a case in court.

Bad news: with invent of the internet, people are able to go to google, and take any unprotected designs and use them much faster and more efficiently than prior to the internet. The only way that you can protect your design is by holding onto the design to yourself and those who sign a non-disclosure agreement with you.

I really do hope that this was a 'coincidence' and not somebody rifling engineering forums for new designs. Unfortunately, what would take us 6 months to develop, a company with millions of dollars could create it in 4 weeks.

I hope everything works for the best for you....you may want to add something to it to make it unique and continue working...

Good luck

09-09-2006, 04:40 AM
This is why inventors don't like to talk about specifics until they get a patent.

- Stephen

Mike Green
09-09-2006, 05:38 AM
There's been a lot of forum discussion about this in relation to the Propeller since it's not practical to protect Propeller software as easily as with the SX or Stamp controllers. You probably have been ripped off. It's really easy when you're nice enough to want to share your ideas and results with the world at large. Ditto on Steel's suggestion to continue working and making your system unique and probably not sharing everything with the world at large. If there are magazines that specialize in what you're doing, you could write an article for publication that describes what you've done and the results you've gotten, perhaps explains what you did earlier during your development process without accusing Schnitz of snitching and perhaps explaining why you have a better system now and maybe how much better. Even if Schnitz developed theirs independently, you would be showing that you've learned more and have a better system now.

09-09-2006, 06:48 AM
What i do all the time is i go to my local currency exchange and get the drawing, code, lyrics, whatever notorized that way there is always a time stamp on when the concept was created. (Cheap) Then i go after the patent or copyright if necessary. Most of it can be done on line now.


09-09-2006, 06:59 AM
Just to clarify this for everyone, my only real interest here is to protect my own rights to my design. I don't regret posting it, and for sure when·a couple more projects that are still in development are completed they'll be posted in complete form as well.

The project in question wouldnt have even been possible without these forums and the help of the people here, at the very least not in the time frame it finished in. Many forum members and Parralax staff gave me pointers, answered questions or even code examples. I still give special thanks to Guenther, Chris, and Beau, as well as PJ and many others that in a sense tutored me through this thing.

So in closing, the lesson here isnt that you shouldnt share designs, I think the lesson learned here for me is to be happy for the things that I've gained from it, and I am.

From what I've learned now I was never pursuing· patent, the posting was as good a protection as I could get to prove development, so that being said, Im very thankful I shared it, for more than one reason.


The Captain
09-09-2006, 10:19 AM
Remember too, the GPL is your friend.

09-09-2006, 06:27 PM

I've been where you are several times.

On the optomistic side, things do get developed innocently by different people in different places at the same time. If different people are facing the the same technical problem, there is a very good chance the independently developed solutions will look/feel/work the same.

Patent protection can be a long, money-intensive, soul-sucking process. At the end, YOU have to defend the patent, not the government or anyone else. Do you have the bucks to go against a company even twice as big as your own in a lawsuit that may drag on for a year? How will that affect your research funds for new projects?

My experience with tech stuff is take advantage of your ability to respond to markets quickly, sell to a few early adopters, cultivate a small group of loyal users...........then get on with the next good idea.

Don Lancaster and his Guru's Lair site (www.tinaja.com/ ) has several essays on the topic of patents and their pitfalls.

Tom Sisk


09-09-2006, 09:01 PM
Patents are great if you a big company with lots of money. If not, then they can be your worst enemy.

Here is a tactic big companies use.

Steal some small companies invention (even if they have it patented). Make some small change and patent it. Now sue the small company for patent infringement. They will lose in court, but not until they suck the life (and money) out of the small company. So they win in the end anyway.

The biggest problem with patents is that the patent office will let big companies patent anything and everything. What do they have to lose ? They don't have to defend the patent in court, and they must PROVE why they are refusing a patent. That would mean they have to actually research the patent, that would mean doing actual work. Yeah right...

Bottom line. If a big company wants to steal your invention, just walk away and invent something else or something better.

Remember the golden rule... those with the gold make the rules...

Sure sometimes the little guy wins in court, but that is very much the exception than the rule.


Cheap used 4-digit LED display with driver IC·www.hc4led.com (http://www.hc4led.com)

Low power SD Data Logger www.sddatalogger.com (http://www.sddatalogger.com)
SX-Video Display Modules www.sxvm.com (http://www.sxvm.com)

There are only two guaranteed ways to become weathy.
Spend less than you make.
Make more than you spend.

09-10-2006, 07:56 AM
I ran into this with a theory of matter that I made the mistake of emailing to MIT. It showed up later in Time as a student at MIT making a break through and the kicker is that some of the wording was IDENTICAL to my email. Sadly I am at a loss to follow up and find out what really happened because no one will get back to me from TIME or MIT. Don't think I haven't been looking for ways to follow up, but so far none have presented themselves.

My point is that I learned the hard way never to give out info or ideas to anyone. After talking with copywrite and patent people I also learned that you have to date EVERYTHING. You need to keep records and·mail yourself a copy with a comment on the bottom of the envelope so you know what the date is. The dates of the envelopes should match your plan revision dates. When you get to court - hope you don't have to - you can then prove from your own handwriting and from the sealed envelopes postage dates what happened when. NO ONE can say they came up with the idea if your documetns are dated before they started working on the project.

Doing this saves you from big companys and then you can sue for rights and damages. By the way, I would press criminal charges of theft against the company. It sounds like being a prick, but when you see your idea getting used elsewhere it sucks!

Good Hunting.

09-10-2006, 07:58 AM
Sorry about the negative post, I guess I was in a funk this morning.
I guess you can tell I don't hold our patent system or legal system in very high regard.

My view is that to keep your idea from being "claimed" by another company is to make them VERY public from day one.
You don't need to reveal everything (like the complete source code), but the idea and implementation should be made public.
If someone copies it, you will have many people that can backup your claim of inventing it first.

If you "hide" your invention and tell very few people, it won't be easy to prove you made it first.

I've read that Benjamin Franklin refused to patent any of his ideas.


Cheap used 4-digit LED display with driver IC·www.hc4led.com (http://www.hc4led.com)

Low power SD Data Logger www.sddatalogger.com (http://www.sddatalogger.com)
SX-Video Display Modules www.sxvm.com (http://www.sxvm.com)

There are only two guaranteed ways to become weathy.
Spend less than you make.
Make more than you spend.

09-10-2006, 09:59 AM
I had this revealed to me years ago by a patent attorney:· Patent infringement is not against the law!!

Holding a patent on an invention does not prevent anyone from copying it.· The patent allows the holder to go after the copier.· That's it.·· And it is expensive.·

Unless the potential market is very large, there is very little reason for a patent.· You (or any licensee) wouldn't want to spend $200,000 to defend a patent where the potential market is only $20,000 (or even a lot more than $200,000, really).· So take Bean's advice and get the word out the best way you can.

I have a very small company that holds patents.· Other companies try to copy us.· This is a good thing.· Competition validates an idea and actually adds value to·my company.· Competition also increases market awareness.· Where these other companies can't compete is in our know-how, trade secrets, attention to detail, efficiency,·and customer service.· I send "Cease and Desist" letters to the copiers but it would be foolish to spend my time and money to take them to court.· If, at some point, I decide to sell my company to a much larger company, they can go after the other guys.

Chris I.

Post Edited (StarMan) : 9/10/2006 3:06:01 AM GMT

09-10-2006, 10:52 PM
Of course there is a danger that the other company may get a patent and then sue you for infringing their patent. To help protect yourself you can either get your own patent, or try to make sure they don't get one. Periodically check the published patent applications on the USPTO web site (www.uspto.gov). If an application on your invention shows up, then you can make sure the PTO knows about your device. Patent applications have to be filed within 1 year of the first public disclosure of the invention. Applications are published 18 months after filing. So you need to keep checking the USPTO web site for 30 months to be sure they haven't filed an application.

Make sure you keep everything related to your invention: sketches, schematics, blue prints, source code, napkins with drawings on it, programs from races in which you used the invention on your bike, the threads on the Parallax forums, etc. so you can prove when you invented it and when you first used it or made it known in public.

I don't work for them, but Nolo Press has some good books on patents, licensing, etc..

N.B. - Mailing things to youself in an envelope is not very effective, because you can mail yourself an unsealed envelope and then put something in it and seal it at a later date.

09-12-2006, 01:03 AM
bubblehead said...
N.B. - Mailing things to youself in an envelope is not very effective, because you can mail yourself an unsealed envelope and then put something in it and seal it at a later date.
Thats·not entirely accurate.
The post office has an entire division to locate lost mail and to find mail its proper location. If an open and empty envelope goes through the mail, it won't make it to your address, it will get routed to a lost mail person.
If the concept of lost mail·worries anyone then send it certified or registered mail. But the thought of an empty, open envelope getting to some one is at best a very remote possablilty.

When I worked with the post office we wouldn't ship anything that looked ripped open or unsealed without checking to see if it would stay together. Sometimes we went to the point of taking the destroyed envelope and writing out a new one and stuff everything inside the new envelope so the·mail could get where it was going.


09-12-2006, 01:05 AM
By the way, one other thing you could do is contact the attorney general of your state. They would be able to look into matters and tell you if something stinks.

09-12-2006, 02:02 AM
FYI - I looked up the patent laws and there are many different things that can work in your favor.

This is from

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/doc/general/index.html#laws (http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/doc/general/index.html#laws)

Novelty And Non-Obviousness, Conditions For Obtaining A Patent

In order for an invention to be patentable it must be new as defined in the patent law, which provides that an invention cannot be patented if: "(a) the invention was known or used by others in this country, or patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country, before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent," or "(b) the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country more than one year prior to the application for patent in the United States . . ."

If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere in the world, or if it was known or used by others in this country before the date that the applicant made his/her invention, a patent cannot be obtained. If the invention has been described in a printed publication anywhere, or has been in public use or on sale in this country more than one year before the date on which an application for patent is filed in this country, a patent cannot be obtained. In this connection it is immaterial when the invention was made, or whether the printed publication or public use was by the inventor himself/herself or by someone else. If the inventor describes the invention in a printed publication or uses the invention publicly, or places it on sale, he/she must apply for a patent before one year has gone by, otherwise any right to a patent will be lost. The inventor must file on the date of public use or disclosure, however, in order to preserve patent rights in many foreign countries.

Even if the subject matter sought to be patented is not exactly shown by the prior art, and involves one or more differences over the most nearly similar thing already known, a patent may still be refused if the differences would be obvious. The subject matter sought to be patented must be sufficiently different from what has been used or described before that it may be said to be nonobvious to a person having ordinary skill in the area of technology related to the invention. For example, the substitution of one color for another, or changes in size, are ordinarily not patentable.

Ken Gracey
09-12-2006, 02:41 AM
Hey Chris,

We've spent enough money on legal consulting to save you some time. The appropriateness of patents is subject to much debate, so I'll just leave that alone by saying our ultimate conclusion (from consulting well-known legal experts) is that freely available processes achieve massive amounts of protection.

The establishment of "prior art" can negate patent applications from your competitors, especially if you've gone to the length of posting your project on the web, having time-stamped documentation in your file, and submitting federal copyright registrations for your documentation. This approach, combined with being the first to design, sell and market the product is your strongest weapon to win the copycat wars. This is opposite to what's been suggested above [which is to keep your secrets close at hand].

As for your current situation, I'd take the time to assemble your current project documentation, along with any time-stamped material, and send it to the President of the corporation who seems to have used your idea. Don't make any threats in your letter. Simply identify your work in the field so it's clearly recognized by them (and now on file in their office - they're going to hate to be "aware" of what you've already done) and let them know you've been making a similar product. Clearly open-source it to them. Follow up with a telephone call to establish communication. If attorneys get involved in the future then the first thing they'll do is weasel their way in between you and the other company. Keep that from happening. Don't draw conclusions about potential copying - keep it professional because you may even end up working together.

Then, proceed to finish your design and sell the product, doing a better (and more honest) job than anybody else could do. Keep a positive attitude and don't let them distract you from your mission.

My advice is free! Probably not worth much more than that, but if I were going to spend your money like it were ours I'd not hire an attorney to help you out.

Ken Gracey
Parallax, Inc.

P.S. I've not always had this approach.

Post Edited (Ken Gracey (Parallax)) : 9/11/2006 7:45:30 PM GMT

Paul Baker
09-12-2006, 03:17 AM
Ive got all sorts of stuff to add to this conversation, having just left my job as an examiner at the Patent Office. I will forgo talking about most of it for a multitude of reasons.

The best "nip it in the bud" solution for the independent inventor that is not seeking to exclude others from having thier own product, but want to protect thier own interest and business is a Statutory Invention Registration. It is basically a disclosure of your invention, much like having an article published; but it is done through the Patent Office. As such, it is entered into the same database as patents that is searched when examining patents applications. This is the strongest form of prior art availible because unless the examiner is really negligent it will be found. Relying on other forms of publication can be if-y especially on online forums and such. There's no guarentee the examiner will run across it in the approximately 3-6 hours of search time the examiner spends on the case. While other forms of publication are valid, you either have to pay the Patent Office to reexamine the case if you catch it early enough·or you have to take the company to court, and all the money that is·required to do that.

Paul Baker (mailto:pbaker@parallax.com)
Propeller Applications Engineer
[/url][url=http://www.parallax.com] (http://www.parallax.com)
Parallax, Inc. (http://www.parallax.com)

Post Edited (Paul Baker (Parallax)) : 9/11/2006 8:22:03 PM GMT

09-12-2006, 04:22 AM
Thanks to everyone for the advice, honestly I was probably a little hasty in posting this in the forums. Ken, the advice is excellent and that was pretty much my intentions in those regards. The application was obvious, at least to me. So there is a very real chance of parralel development, although the circumstances limit the odds of it. I've generated a fairly decent collection of documentation with date stamps and timeline and will be sending them out Wednesday registered mail.

To restate, as I said in my original posting of the project, this wasnt really about money, it was about doing the project. My major concern at this point is simply to make sure that someone doesnt make an attempt to steal it (ie patent and then sue me for infringement on my own design). However I have no reason to believe that is likely.

Copying I can live with (Even though it may not even be that). As others pointed out very well, it validates all the work I put into the project itself, and to some extent I take it as a compliment.

All that being said, we'll see what happens. I'm still very happy that I posted the project, and will be posting others if and when they complete. :)

The company in question has a history of being an innovator and being a very straight place to deal with, no history that I know of of being underhanded.

Time to wait and see.


09-12-2006, 06:02 AM
· You have a very good attitude about the situation.
· As Ken said, "be professional". You never know the company may offer you some work. After all they may have paid big bucks to develop the application in parallal.
· They may have some other ideas that could use your expertise.
· Sueing only benefits the lawyers on both sides.


Cheap used 4-digit LED display with driver IC·www.hc4led.com (http://www.hc4led.com)

Low power SD Data Logger www.sddatalogger.com (http://www.sddatalogger.com)
SX-Video Display Modules www.sxvm.com (http://www.sxvm.com)

There are only two guaranteed ways to become weathy.
Spend less than you make.
Make more than you spend.

Steve Andrues
09-24-2006, 10:43 PM

··· You have a great attitude!· I've had "intellectual property" ripped-off before and know that the feeling sucks.· Other posts have pretty well covered patents.· I'll leave two thoughts on this matter.

···· The first comes from my father (who also was previously ripped-off).· "You will come up with more ideas.· Those sorry bastards had to steal in order to get one."

···· Secondly, if you are going to use US mail sytem, send your documents via Registered mail.· One of my customers pointed out the difference between Certified mail and Registered·mail.· Certified mail goes through the "normal" mail system.· Registered mail is handeled differently.· A dedicated courier carries the documents in a locked case.· When you receive your documents, you have been "served" in the eyes of the court.· It's a small detail but worth the extra couple of dollars.

···· Best of luck with your future projects!