I am an architect on a redesign of an old software system into a new system. One of the big problems of this older vendor based system is that it only communicated out on its interfaces in the vendors proprietary format. Many other systems and vendor systems interfacing to this were tightly coupled to the vendor product because they were programmed to talk in a proprietary format. One of the design principles I am adhering to here is that interfacing systems not talk in any proprietary format to the new system.

Related: Is it legal to write software to convert data from a proprietary format? I was told from management that Legal has in writing, explicit permission from the new vendor that we are allowed to convert their proprietary XML formats into another data format.

The new software system is also a vendor product which in turn has its own vendor proprietary formats. The project is not doing so hot at the moment and we are not likely to meet our dates. Project managers are trying to convince me and the developers that they can save time by simply removing the namespace declarations of the proprietary XML formatted messages, and that by doing so that the document no longer declares its namespace thus cannot actually be considered in the proprietary format.

I don't have the authority to say for sure that the PM is incorrect, however I know for a fact the PM has no authority to make that assertion. I do have the authority to say that XML messages they transform from proprietary must have a declared namespace meaning that they have to transform the message into some format that is distinctly different.

The PM is now trying to ask me what are the minimum possible changes and transformations required to where we can no longer consider the resulting message to be proprietary.

Is there in fact a black and white answer for these sorts of things or is it like most things in Law where it is incomprehensibly a gray area? I don't want to have to raise the flag for legal help on a trifle like this because that would be an expenditure of what little political capital I have on an increasingly stressful and chaotic project.

  • What "proprietary" claims are they making? The answer to questions like these are very different if all they did was add a single proprietary field to an open source format (see Quicken and OFX and QFX), vs a proprietary format that is proprietary because processing the data requires use of a patented algorithm.
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 7, 2016 at 0:41
  • @CortAmmon It is an XML format with a proprietary schema declaration. The schema declaration is part of their delivered source code. Nov 7, 2016 at 19:27
  • I am no lawyer, so certainly consult with one before acting, but from what I have seen, your access to their schema may be governed by licensing documents, but typically you can do a Clean Room reverse-engineering of their schema legally. Make sure the lawyers agree, but usually all you have to do is show that you developed your schema without anything gleaned from the proprietary data in a license-limited manner.
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 7, 2016 at 19:34
  • @CortAmmon That is specifically what I was worried about. They just wanted to remove the proprietary namespace declaration and call it OUR format out of convenience so that they specifically didn't have to think about it. Nov 7, 2016 at 19:44
  • There is some precedent for APIs being public unless you have signed paperwork which says otherwise (I don't remember definitively, but I believe it was the Java API that went to court over this). This works in your favor. If you have no such paperwork, then you should be able to do a very easy Clean Room rewrite of their schema and call the file format yours. If you have such paperwork, then that paperwork would tell you what you need to know (like rules about writing conversion tools), moreso than anyone on the internet could help you.
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 7, 2016 at 19:47


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