Oh Yeah? Reverse Engineer This!
Brace yourself for yet another glimpse of the drum industry’s seamy underbelly. Without naming names, we got a call from a drum maker we know who was fuming about an item that he read in the NAMM report from our last issue. He was distressed to see that we practically did back flips while praising an innovative widget we spied on another company’s drum, which, according to the caller, too closely resembled a similar widget that he had invented and recently submitted for patent approval.
Fortunately we were able to convince him that we aren’t part of a conspiracy to deny his children a college education. But now his lawyers will call their lawyers. Registered letters will fly across continents. Threats will be hurled in either direction. And sooner or later, some kind of compromise will be struck.
Or it won’t. That’s right. This sort of thing happens everyday, and not just in the drum industry, either. It’s called “reverse engineering.” Here’s how it works: I buy your invention, take it apart to see what makes it tick, and clone a doppelganger that is only marginally different. Then I cross my fingers and hope that you don’t notice.
Nine times out of ten, this happens when a much bigger company appropriates a much smaller company’s idea. And since the bigger company can afford to hire bigger lawyers, they simply say “sue me” when the inventor calls to complain. Patent or no patent, eventually the small fry realizes that he will end up in the poorhouse if he actually takes his case to court – even if he wins!
Hey, have you ever heard the terms “Gladstone-style” throw-off or “RIMS-type” tom mount? Well, Billy Gladstone was the genius who invented the beautifully simple throw-off that uses gravity to fall away from the drum shell, and Gary Gauger was the genius who first came up with the design for a tom mount that doesn’t intrude into the drum shell. Every drum company using a Gladstone-style throw-off or a RIMS-type tom mount had to do some amount of reverse engineering. In both of these cases, most drum companies waited until patents had expired before copying the designs. But sometimes they don’t. And that almost always leaves some little guy battered and disillusioned.
Here’s the weirdest part of this discussion. Consumers generally benefit from reverse-engineered products. What if only one drumstick company could legally make 5A sticks? Or if only one drum company had the right to build snare drums? That would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?
Still stinks, though.