Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied a DMCA anti-circumvention claim made by garage door opener manufacturer Chamberlain against rival SkyLink. SkyLink developed a universal remote control that could operate Chamberlain’s garage door openers and Chamberlain didn’t like that so they filed a lawsuit. Luckily, they lost.
I can only imagine the can of worms this case would have opened if it went to opposite direction. If Chamberlain would have prevailed, then using similar logic, TV manufacturers could have prevented other companies from creating universal “integrated” remote controls for our televisions and audio / video equipment.
More importantly, this case re-affirmed some fundamental principles found in the interesting and important case of Sega Enterprises, Ltd. v. Accolade (9th Cir. 1992).In Sega, the court held that reverse engineering could be considered fair use when it was the only way to achieving interoperability with the system in question. If memory serves me right, Accolade had opened up and studied Sega video game cartridges to figure out how to develop their own line of games for the old Sega Genesis video game platform. Sega didn’t appreciate that and sued. Luckily, they lost too. [Make sure to read Jonathan Band and Matthew Schruers' excellent amicus brief on behalf of CCIA for more on this point].