Legal Question

RCMan Mar 12, 2018

  1. RCMan

    RCMan TrainBoard Member

    I have a software package for running my N-Scale Layout, it was Purchased around 1995. According to the U.S Patent information, a Patent on or after 1995 expires in 20 years, before that it was 17 years,in a nut shell on these dates.

    If this is so, I would like to find someone who would like to help reverse engineer this.

    I like this system and still have all the parts and software needed and been using it all this time. Enough boards for a layout using 32 blocks and 32 turnouts/signals.

    It would take someone who has the ability to reverse engineer the software code on the system and come up with a way of making it work in today's technology (DCC).

    I have done many searches to make sure that this is not available and cannot find one spec of information.

    Attached is a picture of the layout and a little of the system

    This is a Loop-2-Loop design with 4 trains running on it at the same time (Bi-directional), also has a Point-2-Point trolley line with three trolley running at the same time. All power is DC only. The person who designed this was supposed to come out with a DCC upgrade but that did not happen.

    I am willing to answer all questions truthfully.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
  2. Greg Elmassian

    Greg Elmassian TrainBoard Member

    It would seem easier to just program this in JMRI or something else.

    This looks like an analog system, so the hardware might be inappropriate for DCC... if so, all new hardware would be much more expensive than just DCC commands from JMRI (free)...

    So, what does the system use for block/train detection? Any special things to the cars (resistors across the wheels)

  3. RCMan

    RCMan TrainBoard Member

    Yes, it is analog. The person who designed this was supposed to have DCC available. I will forgo the boards if the software could be reversed engineered and modified to us today's DCC systems.

    JMRI will never be as easy as this software to program trains run automatically, semi auto, or manual. Not even close. Setup is a breeze and the programming and error checking is years ahead even today to make sure you have not made a mistake. This person worked for Microsoft in the 1990's

    Yes, would like to use today's Command stations with USB as the interface to a computer.

    I am tried of looking and downloading software packages that does not take an expert in every aspect of how a real railroad has to be setup before you can even look at running multiple trains at one time bi-directional and all on one track or multiple tracks at one time. This software does that without spending months or years figuring out all the coding problems.

    I do not want to take away from anyone who really likes to do the detail work to operate a layout, but the software available today is very intimidating to new people thinking about getting into model railroading. I know, I am on many Forums and see the frustration on new users
  4. Xmtrman

    Xmtrman TrainBoard Member

    I'm a (retired) software author, not a lawyer.

    I can tell you that, while patents are important, the copyright ( © ) on the software is more important in that it does not expire during the lifetime (plus many years) of the author.

    Also, the end user license of the software, that was probably included in the packaging and you technically agreed to, usually prohibits "reverse engineering".

    But, most of all, it's usually a bunch easier to write new software than reverse engineer old stuff.
    Hardcoaler likes this.
  5. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

    I have little knowledge of these things, but in many cases an end-user license agreement stipulates that the end user does not own the code. The end user only purchases the right to use the software and nothing more. So, the end-user has no ownership right to edit the code.
  6. TwinDad

    TwinDad TrainBoard Member

    As the others have said, the Patent issue is largely irrelevant, unless they are doing something truly unique. The Copyright and EULA would rule as far as legality goes, and both would most likely say you can't reverse engineer the system without permission of the owner/author.

    It looks like you have three big DC throttles, connected to each other and presumably to the computer running the control software via those telephone wires in the front. Do you have any idea what kind of signals are on those cables? Are they connected to a serial port on the computer?

    If so, you *might* be able to sniff the messages on the serial port and devise a "DCC translator" that would convert those messages into DCC throttle commands. This would *technically* be pretty easy to do with, say, an Arduino and a modified version of DCC++.

    LEGALLY speaking, though, if the system was sold together as a system (software + hardware), the licensing terms would probably preclude you doing this as well.
  7. RCMan

    RCMan TrainBoard Member

    So what your saying is if the owner died and no one claims ownership, you still cannot do anything? I am not looking at making money on this just have another software option for users that do not want to spend all their time trying to get the software to operate.
  8. Xmtrman

    Xmtrman TrainBoard Member

    The copyright becomes property of the author's estate like any other asset. It does expire some time after death as explained in the copyright office .pdf link I provided.

    A copyright is a property right. It doesn't matter if you don't intend profit.

    You cannot steal an Oldsmobile just because they are no longer produced by the original author even if you promise to only drive it to church on Sundays.
  9. ViperBugloss

    ViperBugloss TrainBoard Member

    The question I have is what exactly is meant by "reverse engineering"? To turn an executable software image back into its original source code is well-nigh impossible. Even if this were possible then the source code appears to be a for specialised DC system with bespoke hardware. To then create an equivalent DCC system would probably require writing totally different software which would operate in the same way as the DC system.

    I would have thought that the best way to proceed was to determine the functionality of the existing system and determining the best way of reproduce this using existing DCC software packages. This might be intimidating but I would have thought that attempting to reverse engineer the existing software was even more intimidating.

    Robert Pearce (aka ViperBugloss)
  10. Eagle2

    Eagle2 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

    In a case like this, the best bet would be to try to find an attorney with some experience in patent/copyright law to get advice from. There are a lot of people here with varying degrees of knowledge but at bottom line this is not really the best venue for that kind of advice.
    BoxcabE50 likes this.
  11. RCMan

    RCMan TrainBoard Member

    Thanks for all the comments.

    That is more that I really want to do.
  12. Keith Ledbetter

    Keith Ledbetter TrainBoard Member

    I know this is super super super old but I have a little experience here.

    So would love to hear if you did anything around this. All above is largely correct and while I agree JMRI can be difficult it would be best in my opinion to pay someone to code you a front end to JMRI that could basically give you the functionality and be easy to use without stepping on the copyright/patent issue.

    Honestly that will be easier and more future proofed then a reverse engineered solution anyway not top mention the complexities of it.

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