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China makes a tool that I need that was potentially the result of corporate espionage against an OEM, or similar reverse engineering the OEM tools, or reverse engineering tools produced by licensed partners. It could also be the result of clean room design. Truth be told I don't know.

But I'm willing to risk a lawsuit by Chinese manufacturer. I doubt they're going to sue me for open sourcing their software after reverse engineering their tool. Especially if they're nameless in the whole thing. And all the more if the only thing they have to go on is that someone knows the same tricks and built an eerily similar catalog that their diagnostic tool uses.

My question is about the OEM itself. Clearly the OEM has been unsuccessful stopping the proliferation of cheap Chinese tools built on their secrets -- they don't tell these things to anyone, and they're tight lipped about them. They may not like me publishing their secrets on GitHub.

Would I face recourse by the OEM itself if I never stole from the OEM? Would the OEM have to prove that a Chinese manufacturer in Shenzen stolen from them to come after me by proxy?

The OEM is a real concern. I imagine they'll be very not happy. Their whole business model is making repair exclusive and forcing people to purchase new products.

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  • 3
    What is an OEM? Please spell out any acronym at least once is a post.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 11 at 3:09
  • 4
    probably original equipment manufacturer.
    – Trish
    Commented Jun 11 at 6:47
  • And the reason why you can't just buy the stuff from the OEM is because they're too expensive?
    – PMF
    Commented Jun 11 at 8:48
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    @PMF they won't even sell it to you. Controlling and killing repair is a huge part of their income stream. For example, in the laptop market Apple Care allows them to monopolize support. And when they choose to drop support they know you're (practically) forced into buying a new laptop. In the case of Apple we know what their tools do, but ripping them off is impossible in a true clean room sense (complexity). ifixit.com/News/33593/… But ripping off a Chinese brand that may have bought their secrets sounds totally doable. Commented Jun 11 at 21:28
  • I don't understand the close reason here, I haven't done anything yet. I haven't reverse engineered anything. And I haven't published. I'm just wondering who would have recourse against me if I did. That seems to exclude all the reasons here law.meta.stackexchange.com/a/222/218 Commented Jun 12 at 15:01

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Unmentioned in the question, but implied, is that the original manufacturer (OEM) may have a cause of action against the Chinese manufacturer. The Chinese manufacturer could be infringing copyright, trademark, patent, or some combination of the three.

My question is about the OEM itself. Clearly the OEM has been unsuccessful stopping the proliferation of cheap Chinese tools built on their secrets -- they don't tell these things to anyone, and they're tight lipped about them. They may not like me publishing their secrets on GitHub.

Patents are not secret, and they do not protect information against publication; they only entitle the holder of the patent to control the manufacture, sale, use, and import of the invention. I don't know whether publishing a software implementation of a patent may be seen as inducing infringement, which is also a violation (in the US, at least), but if something is being protected through secrecy then it is unlikely to be patented.

Trademark would only be an issue to the extent that consumers might be confused, for example, if the Chinese product purports to be the original product. As long as your product does not, you should have nothing to worry about with respect to trademark.

As to copyright, if you reverse-engineer the Chinese product through decompilation or any other technique that doesn't satisfy the requirements of clean-room design then you expose yourself to possible liability for copyright infringement, since you cannot prove that the Chinese product is the result of clean-room design. This would probably require the original company to publish some of their source code, however, to establish that your code is so similar that it is likely the result of copying. This should be possible even without access to the intermediate step.

If the original manufacturer is as secretive as you make them out to be, they won't want to do this, which would give you some leverage in any pre-trial negotiations. Still, their pockets are likely far deeper than yours, so your leverage may not be sufficient to prevent them from making your life difficult.

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  • So they have to prove I have their stolen goods. And likely in the case of a protocol, and or a database, that impossible -- I can always just reimplment the protocol myself (which will always carry a few bugs), or just reword the contents of the database. "Broken Screen Pixels" -> "Non-functioning Display Pixel Malfunction" whatever. Commented Jun 11 at 21:30

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