Reverse-engineering doesn't deliver the same results as original design
January 6, 2010

One of the problems we occasionally encounter is a misunderstanding that a reverse-engineered product is the same as the original product it copies. There are two very serious problems with this misunderstanding: First, a company that invests in research and development has to be able to recover some of the expenses it incurs through patents and other forms of intellectual-property protection. It took Thomas Edison 6,000 different experiments to find the most effective filament for the common light bulb. Every good innovation requires some sort of investment -- the equivalent of Edison's 6,000 filament trials. When customers accept copycat products without regard for the patented innovations that go into the original design, they contribute to an environment in which innovation isn't rewarded -- which means that it will eventually stop altogether.

The second problem has an even more direct impact on the product user than the long-term effects of violating intellectual property rights. It's quite simple: Reverse engineering overlooks important steps in the process that can lead to catastrophic failures. Consider the case of the 13-story Shanghai apartment building that toppled like a bowling pin. It was built on impossibly inadequate footings and fell when workers tried to excavate beneath the building (which had no basement foundation) to build a parking garage. It's a profoundly amateurish mistake -- the kind of mistake someone might make if they unthinkingly copied someone else's design for the building without understanding how the project would work as a whole. A first-year engineering student would know better than to excavate beneath a 13-story building with no foundation...but it seems no such thought was put into the construction in Shanghai. Certainly even less is put into the copycat, knock-off, and reverse-engineered products made in many Chinese factories in violation of patent laws and other intellectual-property protections.

We take special pride in working with companies like Gorman-Rupp, Patterson Pump Co., ATI, and Environetics, all of which have been distinguished innovators in their respective product fields. When we represent these products, we do so with confidence that their design is based upon considerable knowledge and experience -- not a cheap imitation of someone else's work.

January 2010
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last revised January 2010