Patent and Reverse Engineering by Consumers: What Is the Permitted Line of Fair Use?
Consumer electronics utilize numerous patents filed by their developers. One of the emerging issues involving these patented machineries is reverse engineering by consumers. Consumers who are skilled enough to hack into the source codes of the hardware they purchase make modifications to the software, enabling it to run unauthorized applications or receive more service than the consumer paid for.
The problem that lies with the reverse engineering by the consumers is not the private practice of reverse engineering itself, but the communication of hacking methods or hacked source code to other consumers. For example, is it an infringement of a patent if an iPhone hacker enables the iPhone to run non-iPhone software and communicates such method to other customers? How about a cable modem hacker who communicates the method to increase service bandwidth to others, but does not ever practice the method himself?
Consumer protection groups say that customers are free to communicate “hacks” under free speech and other laws in the U.S. Electronic companies argue that banning reverse engineering and hacking helps companies to protect their patents, and it also benefits customers by providing safe and secured products.
By Daniel Lee