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Circumvention of Competitors Intellectual Property

Legally Circumventing the Intellectual Property of Competitors

You may wish to study the technical aspects of a competitor's product for your own purposes. This is sometimes referred to as reverse engineering, particularly in the context of technology. To what extent does the law allow this?

It is generally legally permissible to study a competitor's product for the purpose of learning from it, provided that you take care as to how you apply the information derived so as to ensure that you do not infringe their intellectual property rights. You also have to ensure that you have no contractual obligation restricting you from this activity.

You can legally design around third party patent or design registration rights so as to avoid infringing those rights where those rights would otherwise restrict progress in development of your own product. Non-commercial (experimental or other) use of patented technology does not infringe the patent.

Design rights and copyright protect their owner from copying of their work or design by others, so your design team should not be shown the existing third party work or design (so as to avoid unconscious copying). Unless you show that reverse engineering of a computer program (which is copyright protected ) is for the purpose of genuine non-commercial research, it is likely to be an infringement.

Semi-conductor topography is afforded legal protection broadly equivalent to that given in respect of design rights. Whilst straight copying of it is an infringement, reverse engineering is permitted, as is producing a new topography based on reverse engineering of the original topography. Before reaching any decision as to use of any topography that you reverse engineer, you should take specialist legal advice.

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