MTH vs. NMRA, QSI, Digitrax, Lenz, TCS, Soundtraxx, etc.

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and passing it along (it also was on
the Digitrax list, apparently):
>In case some of you missed it, MTH (Mike's Train House) -- the second largest producer of
>O and 027 trains behind Lionel -- is claiming that they own the patent to
back-emf control. As
such, they have now decided to enforce the patent and have sent cease and
desist orders to
EVERY manufacturer of DCC equipment currently using back-emf (by ANY name -- including
>Digitrax's speed stabilization and TCS's Dither control). The latest set of
BLI engines shipped
with this feature disabled. Soundtraxx has postponed the introduction of
the Tsunami decoder
until this has been taken care of. Lenz has already filed a court motion to
overturn it. (Note: this
is NOT about the name back-emf -- that would be a copyright infringement --
this is about the
CONCEPT of back-emf -- a patent infringement)... If anyone would happen to have any
>publications, letters, notes from meetings (esp NMRA) etc, that mention
back-emf or "constant
speed control" or anything like that that pre-date 1990 (the date of MTH's
patent), let me know
and I will pass the info along to Stan Ames who is leading the effort to
get this overturned.
Basically, what this means is that all DCC decoder manufactures will be
forced to remove back-
emf control from their products unless it is overturned. MTH has NO plans
to introduce any HO,
N, Z, G products. Apparently, this whole thing started thru the lawsuit
between QSI (who makes
BLI's decoders) and MTH over proprietary sound and ended up here when MTH saw they might
>be able to get away with it. While many people remember the concept being
discussed before MTH's
patent, as of yet, no proof (in writing) has been found... Sorry for what
could be terrible news, but
I thought you'd all like to know.
> R.Geiter
> Lancaster,PA
In rebuttal there is this:
Okay, folks. Here's the poop, as it pertains to the MTH/QSI "lawsuit."
>This morning, I spoke with the VP of Marketing here at MTH. First, there
>was no cease and desist order sent, but rather, two separate letters
>informing various DCC manufacturers and to the NMRA of areas of model
>railroad command control where MTH holds patents. Only certain, specific
>aspects of DCC operation are in question at this time. One is two-way
>communication between the locomotive and command station, and the other
>pertains to Back EMF motor control. MTH holds certain patents on both of
>these features that may or may not pertain to DCC decoders.
>QSI decoders do not feature two-way communication, so, for QSI and BLI, that
>is not an issue. QSI decoders did feature Back-EMF motor control. However,
>this is a feature which is firmware controlled. Until such time as the
>issue is resolved, QSI has voluntarily removed the Back-EMF feature from its
>products. This may cause a slight shipping delay for BLI.
>This is not related to any previous legal wranglings between MTH and QSI.
>Any other questions regarding this matter can be directed to me off-line,
>and I will attempt to get answers from the powers-that-be here at MTH, and
>post the results, if applicable.
>Geren W. Mortensen, Jr.
>Acoustic Design Project Manager
>MTH Electric Trains
>Columbia, MD, USA
My opinion:
I have to say I don't use BEMF, nor am I all that concerned with the
NMRA's Bi-Directional communication format. However, I think this is a dumb
thing to do by MTH. If you like BEMF, you better stock up on decoders now.
If you liked the possibilities outlined in the latest MR ("Third Generation
DCC"), you might as well forget about it.
If they get away with this, I know I will never buy their stuff (easy
for me to say, I'm in HO) and I will certainly tell others not to (this
might be more effective, as I know several O scalers).
Stan Ames, I know you used to post here. Have you got any info you can
Paul A. Cutler III
Weather Or No Go New Haven
Reply to
Pac Man
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Which part - developing the technology, patenting it, or enforcing their patent?
Patents are property, and if what you report is true, they do own the technology.
Reply to
Mark Mathu
>Digitrax's speed stabilization and TCS's Dither control
Reply to
Jon Miller
I doubt it's that black and white.
I think things might be just slightly gray. Maybe even Harbor Mist gray.
Andy -----------------------------------------------------------
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- Pre-Interstate Urban Archaeology -----------------------------------------------------------
Reply to
Andy Harman
Two sets of initials that will live for infamy in the realms of model railroading, UP and MTH.
Reply to
Jon Miller
Here are the patents registered by MTH according to
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#6,619,594 Control, sound, and operating system for model trains (9/9/2002)
#6,604,641 Low-power electrically operated coupler (9/9/2002)
#6,491,263 Power supply unit and rail switching mechanism for model track layouts (7/11/2001)
#6,457,681 Control, sound, and operating system for model trains (12/7/2000)
#6,281,606 Plural output electric train control station (12/16/1998)
#6,019,289 Modular track segment for model railroad track and electrical accessory therefor (1/16/1998)
Please note the recent date of these patents. In fact, MTH's patent that has to do with BEMF (#6,619,594) was filed on 9/9/2002. A quick check of the website shows that Lenz was announcing BEMF decoders in 2001. I quote: "LE010XF Feb. 2, 2001 - Lenz GmbH is pleased to announce the world's smallest NMRA DCC decoder with exceptional performance of Load Compensation or "BACK EMF". Available March 2001"
Now, can someone please explain how Mike Wolf of MTH can claim a patent on BEMF a *year and a half* after Lenz started selling decoders with BEMF???
I admit, what I know of patent law wouldn't fill a thimble. But just from reading a little history about Westinghouse, Edison, and Tesla, et al, one gets the general impression that he who is first, gets the benefit. A "Johnny-come-lately", one would think, would be frowned upon.
BTW, I should have known *you* of all people would support MTH in this... Do you always take the side of business over modelers? First UP, now this... :-(
We, the public, through the gov't, decide what rights to give to businesses, not the other way around.
Paul A. Cutler III ************* Weather Or No Go New Haven *************
P.S. If anybody wants to give the ol' college try at reading those patents, I wish you luck. The way some of it is written, it appears that MTH's patent #6,457,681 covers all command control systems. In short, it's not an easy read. :-)
Reply to
Pac Man
Andy, I think those patent forms are written that way just to keep patent lawyers in business! :-D
Semi-seriously, they are kinda vague (the patents, not the lawyers). It will not do this hobby any good, no matter what comes of it. What's next? Is someone going to patent 3.5mm to the foot as a scale for model trains? Or maybe the use of nickle-silver metal for track material? Jeez...
Paul A. Cutler III ************* Weather Or No Go New Haven *************
Reply to
Pac Man
Let's try again... Which part do you think is a dumb thing to do by MTH - developing the technology, patenting it, or enforcing their patent?
Reply to
Mark Mathu
I have to agree with Mark. If they do own the patent, I certainly support their legal right to protect their property. I would hope that this can all be worked out through appropriate business contracts as you would expect to be the solution.
Reply to
Matt & Kathleen Brennan
I'll bet they also tabled "SurroundTraxx", which uses two-way communication.
Reply to
Frank Eva
If it were about the name "back-emf," wouldn't that be a trademark infringement, not a copyright infringement?
Reply to
Mark Mathu
What is more important than the actual patent is paper (probably published)showing usage or development. MTH may have filed in '02 but those looking to dispute the patent are looking for things published in the mid 90s. The exact wording posted on the NMRA list was this;
"I am looking for a description of back emf decoders from the mid 90s or earlier that describes these decoders as having a constant speed going up and down the hill."
I haven't talked to anyone looking for this information yet but am guessing exactly what is stated is the information needed to combat the MTH patent!
Reply to
Jon Miller
This is what you have to remember with patents;
Un-patented 'prior invention' win against patents provided it is documented and provable in court. In other words, 'Prior art' wins. A patent is just a legally documented invention ownership claim.
Reply to
Jon Miller
=>If it were about the name "back-emf," wouldn't that be a trademark =>infringement, not a copyright infringement?
"Back-emf"? I learned about that in engineering classes, many decades ago. It has also been discussed in the pages of MR, back in the 60s IIRC. The most MTH can do is patent some particular device that uses back-emf for some specified purpose, but it cannot prevent anyone from using back-emf to do similar things in other devices. The concept and its use has been around since the invention of electric motors.
Nor can MTH the trade-mark the phrase - it's been around in engineering texts for a long time. As has its synonym "reverse emf." It _can_ trademark a particular logo-version of "back-emf", and any references _to that logo_ would have to be marked (TM). What's more, only in the context of trading similar devices or goods would the trademark be enforceable. But any mfr who uses back-emf in it existing devices, and advertised the fact in the past, would not infringe on MTH's trademark. IOW, MTH has a weak enforcement case, if it has one at all. (Footnote)
There is a problem in the US Patent Office, BTW: too many of the patent examiners are too poorly trained to recognise when a patent uses a well-known and well-established phenomenon, and/or duplicates an existing device (often in the public domain.) Also, interpretation of US patent law has shifted to permit patenting very minor changes in existing devices, changes that in earlier interpretations were deemed to be included in the original patent, and hence would become public domain when the patent expired.
Footnote: a) Consider Lotus, who make an office suite that runs on Widnows and other operating systems. It happens to be the name of a flower. Any use of "lotus" or "Lotus" in any context outside office suite software is in fact permissible - Lotus can enforce the trademark _only_ in the context of selling software. b) Consider Starbucks, which initiated a trademark infringement case against the Haida in BC, who opened coffee shop named War Bucks. The Haida's argument was that "bucks" in this context meant "warriors," and was an old-established use of the word -- so Starbucks, take off, eh? Starbucks knew it couldn't win this one. Existing, ordinary _words_ cannot be trademarked. Only _logos_ using ordinary words can be trademarked. (That's why railroads devised logos - all of them use ordinary words in their names!) The Haida's coffee shop sign apparently didn't look like Starbucks' well-known logo. BTW, "Starbuck" itself is a public domain word. Herman Melville used it (invented it?) to name the first mate on the ill-fated Pequod, Capt Ahab's ship in "Moby Dick." So Starbuck's can't object to anyone using the name for anything other than coffee shops and restaurants.
Wolf Kirchmeir ................................. If you didn't want to go to Chicago, why did you get on this train? (Garrison Keillor)
Reply to
Wolf Kirchmeir
I faintly remember, as part of our final project, the instructor taught us or had us do the following; write up a quick description of the project and along with schematics put them in a letter, have fellow students sign the description w/dates and mail them to ourselves. When school was finished and went to work for DOD project companies you signed away any inventions with the employment papers so totally forgot the mail to yourself letter. I always thought this had something to do with copyright but those laws have changed. It might also have had to do with copyrights! It's all hazy as school was a long time ago!
Reply to
Jon Miller
The British company ECM were producing back EMF controllers in the 1980s.
These weren't DCC but used with regular DC.
It is a technique that has been around a long time.
How is its use on a DCC module any different from its use in DC?
All that has happened is that a commonly used circuit is now on the module.
What exactly does MTH's patent claim?
Reply to
Christopher A. Lee
Yeah, sorry about the snippy part of that post. I really shouldn't post after midnight... :-)
Anyways, my point: What I think is "dumb" is MTH trying to stifle development and usage of other control systems that are only simular in nature to their own. This hobby doesn't need manufacturers to sue each other out of business. That's "dumb". Now, if somebody out there reversed engineered their technology and simply put a different sticker on it, that's one thing. But to say that some how they invented Back-EMF for motor control is totally absurd. It's a decades old concept.
Paul A. Cutler III ************* Weather Or No Go New Haven *************
Reply to
Pac Man
On Thu, 27 Nov 2003 08:10:47 -0800, "Jon Miller" shared this with the world:
Provable in court. Using the services of expensive lawyers that the manufacturers in this hobby can ill afford.
Who do you suppose will ultimately end up footing the bill for all of the lawyers that the manufacturers would have to hire to prove "prior art" in a court? That's right, you and me, the buying public (through higher priced on the hobby shop shelf).
This sounds a little like what SCO is trying to do to Linux. Trying to use the legal system to generate a profit.
Reply to
Kent Ashton
On Thu, 27 Nov 2003 01:06:49 GMT, "Pac Man" shared this with the world:
For a bit of history on the aforementioned "previous legal wranglings"
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(1F3).htm and
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Reply to
Kent Ashton
My question is: why now?
Why did they wait nearly a decade before the suddenly decided to enforce their patent?
Seems to me this reeks of "let's wait until it's extremely popular, then we'll make the big bucks on settlements."
-Gerry Leone
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PS By the way, I've patented the idea of "friction." So now I'm gonna sue everyone who uses it to stop something. :-)
Reply to
Gerry Leone

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