Using Trademark To Prevent Interoperability

from the misuses-of-trademarks dept

Misusing intellectual property laws to prevent competition and interoperability is pretty common, but it appears that Autodesk is taking it to the next level. It’s quite common to see companies uses patents to prevent competition (some would claim that’s what patents are for). It’s less common to see it with copyright law, but it’s increasing thanks to misuse of the DMCA. However, Autodesk is being especially creative. Rather than using patents or copyrights, they’re using trademarks. Now, trademarks are really supposed to be about consumer protection, so the guy making Bob’s Cola can’t sell it to you as Coca Cola — where he was effectively tricking you into believing you were buying something you did not. However, some have tried to stretch the meaning of trademarks to ban all use of the trademark. However, even if you believe trademark conveys full ownership rights of a brand to a company, you’d have to think that Autodesk is stretching the meaning of trademarks in their latest lawsuit. Apparently, files created in AutoCAD (an Autodesk product) have been watermarked with a “TrustedDWG” code. If you use a different program to create compatible files, it doesn’t have the code — and when you open a file without the TrustedDWG code, AutoCAD warns you that you may face stability issues and are working on a file built in an “unauthorized” product — which can be a little scary for some users, even if the content is perfectly legitimate. A non-profit group called the Open Design Alliance came out with a program that would let you insert TrustedDWG code into other files to avoid this issue. And, of course, this is the point where Autodesk sues for trademark infringement. The clear reasoning here is to put up a hurdle to make it harder to have “compatible” files made from non-Autodesk software. It has absolutely nothing to do with avoiding consumer confusion or avoiding dilution to the brand. Instead, it’s just a blatant attempt at misusing trademark law to block the competition.

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Comments on “Using Trademark To Prevent Interoperability”

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Rstr5105 says:

They just don't get it....

So, I’m supposed to shell out $XXX to autodesk to use their software to apply the “TrustedDWG” code? Alright that makes sense to a point,
here’s where it stops making sense.

Let’s say I work for an engineering firm. This firm uses KeyCAD. I need to take a project home, and I’ve shelled out aforementioned amount of money to Autodesk for AutoCAD. Wait, What’s this? My project won’t run in AutoCAD? It’s Not Trusted? What the….?

Yeah, I can see how this would hurt productivity. It would be even worse in a mixed environment workplace, where one team of engineers uses one program and another uses autoCAD. Not EVERYBODY uses all one company’s software for their engineering/modeling needs.

The infamous Joe says:

Two gold stars for creativity.

Now, I always find myself on the side of the little guy, but frowm what I read before, I can see how that would be trademark infringement. And, as far as I can tell, the program doesn’t actually prevent you from running files not created with it, it just give you a popup that says “This file wasn’t made by us, and make make me crash.” Isn’t that the same thing as Microsoft and it’s digitally signed drivers? I really hate that popup, and I’m not sure how I always manage to buy products unknown to Microsoft– it’s not like I’m shopping in Tibet or anything.

If that silly popup scares off some people, perhaps they shouldn’t be on a computer in the first place. I think it’s a stretch, but you ARE false placing someone else’s trademark on something they had no hand in… maybe Autodesk just did it because if you don’t defend a trademark, you can lose it, and they’d rather err on the safe side? Who can tell?

I’m going to make a refrigerator that warns you that it may become unstable everytime you try to place a Non-Coca-Cola product in it. Then people will get sued for wrapping their soda in Coke wrappers. Good times.

Rhino says:

Seriously...what's the issue here?

This is a violation that circumvents the sole purpose of the trademark by publishing it into 3rd party files. Whether or not Autodesk has a case remains to be seen, but I applaud them for trying for they are the ones trying to help customers here where the ODA is hurting them.

I don’t see what the big uproar is, or why this is a surprise. The reason TrustedDWG exists at all is so that AutoCAD users can be confident that the file was generated by an application that has undergone a multi-million dollar QA certification and is known to be compatible and as such, “trusted” to work as the customer expects with no side-effects. This is good for customers. Not bad.

History has shown time and time again that competitors that reversed and supported the DWG format have RARELY achieved 100% compatibility across every single aspect of DWG. It’s not always about crashing. It’s also about fidelity. If this problem did not exist, Autodesk never would have invented the concept of TrustedDWG to begin with. They didn’t create the mess. They are just trying to help customers sift through it.

The reason Autodesk did this to begin with is there are a lot of “dwg” files floating around there that are NOT 100% compatible, and users SHOULD be warned that the file has not undergone the rigorous internal QA certification process and compatibility testing, and as such may not be 100% compatible.

By getting this ill-conceived software off the market which CIRCUMVENTS this user-focused feature, Autodesk is helping users, not hurting them. ODA is hurting users by providing this software. It CIRCUMVENTS a useful feature in AutoCAD which can save countless hours tracking down a problem to 3rd party software. I’ve been bit by this many, many times. It’s not an imaginary problem.

The ODA has screwed up here big time IMO. I’m not 100% sure Autodesk will win this suit, but as I said I applaud them for trying, as they have the customer in mind here unlike the ODA which is trying to force the world to form to it’s anti-capitalist agenda, and doesn’t really care about the users who have to use the software day in and day out.

– Rhino

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Seriously...what's the issue here?

Thanks for the insightful response. I hadnt considered that angle and I daresay nobody else here has either.

I dont know if that helps make it kosher with trademark, but it does seem like an important thing trademarks are used for–to keep people from lying about certifications. That is a damned important role. While the argument may get bogged down in discussing whether a byte in the right place can be a trademark, the fact is that there is benefit in users having the information about the softwares origins.

And I reject Mike’s argument about users being scared of a warning box. Are we concerned that casual, novice autocad users might get nervous? More likely irritated. If they exist.

Compare this with something like: IE beginning to render all jpegs not produced by mspaint with a watermark “warning: this image might not be displaying correctly since it was not created with legitimate microsoft software” and then trademarking the byte they stuff into jpeg somewhere to turn that off. That would actually be impactive.

I hope autodesk is classy enough to make the warning disableable in the app config.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Seriously...what's the issue here?

And as a matter of curiosity, then, have you committed a crime if you use someone else’s digital signature for a website or software? I think we’d call that fraud. If the only purpose of this tag in autocad is for the reason specified, I think you could argue that its pretty much fraud.

Again, I dont know if trademark is the best approach to take.

R. Paul Waddington says:

Re: Seriously...what's the issue here?

Oh dear Rhino, you have pushed Autodesk’s line 100%, but just how correct is that line?
The fact is I currently have in my possession a large pile of files from an Autodesk product that are so unstable in another customers AutoCAD as to render them useless. And every one of the files that actually load (many don’t) AutoCAD tells us they are ‘TrustedDWG’ files. Autodesk’s special brand of interoperability.
I also have files created from a non-Autodesk product and they give absolutely no trouble but every time they are loaded AutoCAD tell us that we should expect trouble.
Whose deceiving who Rhino, it has to be Autodesk, and using a trademark in this way is also a deception and I have written and told Carol Bartz just that and that Autodesk should pull its horns in, withdraw from the suit and get on with doing what we users pay for; yes I am an Autodesk subscription customer (20+ years) AutoCAD and Inventor licences and we know the truth about ‘TrustedDWG’ files!

Chris says:

Re: Seriously...what's the issue here?

I don’t think that I can seriously complain the Autodesk wants to stop a third party from pretending that they’re Autodesk by inserting code into a dwg file; but in the case of the trustedDWG window popping up, perhaps a warning should pop up everytime you load a drawing, no matter where it came from. I can’t tell you how often I’ll load a drawing from my engineering subs and they have some add-on that I don’t or vice-versa and it takes forever to get my screen to look like his, and we’re both on legit copies of AC.

muz says:

Re: Seriously...what's the issue here?

Seriously, the issue is that Autodesk is that Autodesk doesn’t want any interoperability with anything it doesn’t get a cut of. Nothing to do with customer benefit. It hasn’t managed 100% compatibility of dwg among it’s own product lineup in the not too distant past, so yeah, they’ve got the customer in mind – not. The ODA is anti-capitalist? Wait, isn’t ODA code used by Solidworks, among some big-capitalist-name others?
Why do you use the name Rhino? McNeel’s threw Rhinoceros’ 3DM format open and documented for all, benefitting users, and interoperability. Autodesk welcome third-party developers, provided that they mandate the end-user having AC, develop in LISP and BASIC, and use them in AC’s inbuilt interpreters. There’re some consistency issues there, Rhino. Where’re the AC tags that pop up when you run a script telling you that the script is TrustedLISP? AC doesn’t rate scripts? AC doesn’t rate files either, it just propagandises itself – at the expense of your time. TrustedLISP is next….

Dave says:

Autodesk has always done stuff like this

Autodesk always had annoying and invasive protection measures like their stupid dongles. This is just another example.

I don’t think anyone is saying they are bad for putting the watermark in the file, I think they are mad that Autodesk is using the law for what is was not intended for.

This is just like Word giving you the scary warning when you try and save the file as something other than Word. Now…what if MS went further and made it so that when you opened a .doc file created by Open Office, it would tell you it was untrusted and not valid? Yeah, I’m sure we’d all be defending them for that.

None of (user link) says:

Autodesk can't claim a patent at least - there's p

Sega pulled a similar trick with one of their older video game consoles. Any cartridge would play preceded by a Sega logo endorsing the game. If the cartridge wasn’t actually endorsed by Sega, the endorsement was a trademark infringement. Problem being, Sega infringed their own (or effectively induced the infringement). As I understand it, when the first unauthorized game compatible with the console was published, Sega sued … and lost.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Autodesk can't claim a patent at least - there

Consoles have done that for a long time and probably still do. Gameboy would do that–the nintendo logo had to be in the rom image and the hardware would check for it. if it wasn’t there, the console wouldn’t boot. if it was, then you better have had permission to put it there….. thats how I remember it, anyway

Stu says:

Rhino said, “I forgot to add, I work for Autodesk as an engineer, but my comment was not on their behalf nor do my views represent theirs. I’m just a user of AutoCAD just like (hopefully) everybody else here commenting is.”
Get real Rhino. You aren’t just another AutoCAD user. I don’t blame you for sincerely believing the company line – it’s understandable and admirable, up to a point.

AutoCAD dwg is similar to Microsoft Word and Excel, in that it is so ubiquitous that you almost have to use AutoCAD if your drawings are to be seen by a lot of different companies.

That gives your company the freedom to push their customers around, and it does. We don’t have to like it, though. I agree with Mr. Waddington in post #17.

Who gave Autodesk permission to insert watermarks and warnings into my drawings? (Please don’t tell me that it’s in your shrink wrap EULA – I’d have to vomit.)

Stay out of the dealings between my company and the ones we exchange drawings with – even if they happen to use CAD software Autodesk doesn’t sell. We can handle any difficulties that may arise – and they are very very few and very very minor.

Mike has it exactly right:
“Misusing intellectual property laws to prevent competition and interoperability is pretty common, but it appears that Autodesk is taking it to the next level.”

Maybe an antitrust investigation is warranted.

Wayne says:

Re: Lock In

AutoCAD and other CAD companies are facing a world where interopability is *what is wanted by their customers*.

The more companies, like MSFT and AutoCAD work to try to lock people into their own proprietary formats the more companies are look for and in some cases fund other solutions.

Open CAD standards, as well as other open standards, are the key to increased interoperability and production, etc. AutoCAD makes a great product for the most part, but AutoDESK is pretty much one of the new “dinosaurs” of computing and, if they do not change how they do things in a manner that gets more people using their products more economically, etc., then they will be yet another chapter in the annuls of computer history.

Helmut says:


A “non-profit group”? Rather a group of hackers paid by Autodesk competitors. Why have these companies refused to open their proprietary formats when they demand Autodesk to do it? It is just about competition and profit, not user rights.

I think that we users can still use AutoCAD or any other CAD system to edit our CAD data. We can even try to make DWG files in non-Autodesk software and then open them in AutoCAD – but the users of such DWG files should be warned that these files are just faked.

Microstation User says:

What makes it trusted?

AutoCAD has written a watermark into DWG files ever since the Release 14 version. It’s called DWGCHK. Old news.

This TrustedDWG thing is new to AutoCAD 2007. AutoCAD is writing the word “Autodesk” into DWG files, and claiming that if a file doesn’t have that word in it is not trustworthy.

Seems like a setup to me. If a competitor doesn’t put the word in the DWG files written by their products, AutoCAD will warn users that the file’s are no good. If the competitor does put the word in, then Autodesk sues them.

R. Paul Waddington says:

Re: What makes it trusted?

And what makes it worse is that faulty Autodesk generated files report themselves, in AutoCAD, as “TrustedDWG”. In earlier versions of AutoCAD DWGCHECK could be turned off and this no longer happens – AutoCAD always reports either ‘TrustedDWG’ or ‘NOT to be trusted’ and it is irrelevant as to whether or not the file is stable, it’s is only a check on ownership of the generating software! The suit is a farce!

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