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, bearing in mind competitor's intellectual property rights?
It is generally acceptable 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. In addition, you should check that there is no contractual obligation restricting you from this activity.
Patents and Registered Designs
If reverse engineering or other research suggests that there is a patent or design registration that may restrict progress in the development of your own product, it is open to you to design around it. Non-commercial use of the technology covered by a patent including genuine experimental use (without commercial ends) is not patent infringement.
Copyright and Design Rights
These rights are intended to protect the owner of the rights from copying of the work or design. Therefore your design team should not be shown the existing work or design (in order to avoid unconscious copying). Reverse engineering of a computer program (which is copyright protected ) is likely to be considered an infringement unless you can show that such reverse engineering was for the purpose of genuine non-commercial research.
Semi-Conductor Chip Topography
This is otherwise afforded protection broadly equivalent to that given in respect of design rights. However, reverse engineering is specifically permitted in such circumstance, as is producing an original topography based on reverse engineering of the original topography. Straight copying of the topography is an infringement, so care is again necessary in the redesign process. It is recommended that specialist legal advice be taken before reaching any decision as to the use to which such research is put.