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Reverse Engineering Isn't a Dirty Word

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Max The Magnificent
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Hmmm
Max The Magnificent   2/27/2014 11:54:30 AM
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I can certainly see the argument that reverse engineering is appropriate when it comes to checking for IP infringement.

But if someone kills themselves designing anything and someone else comes along and reverse engineers it and then creates and sells copies of it -- I cannot see how that is in any way not considered to be stealing.

On the other hand ... as an end user in the 1980s ... I do remember liking the fact that a lot of the components I used were "second-sourced" -- I just don't recall thinking about what that actually meant.

LB_Engineer
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Re: Hmmm
LB_Engineer   2/27/2014 3:26:29 PM
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Max,

"Stealing" someone else's design as you describe it is not RE, it is chip piracy.  Chip piracy was always unethical and it is illegal since 1984.  Second sourcing in pre-1984 style was practiced by the semiconductor companies but its questionable ethics unfairly tainted the entire business of RE.  That is the image I wanted to clear.

 

RE is fundamentally about learning.  I never forget the amount of knowledge I gained by dissecting and Bob Widlars' LM10, in the early 80s.   The knowledge I gained about his new design concepts such as the use of merged PNP/NPN structures, the use of controlled amounts of positive feedback in a real-to-GND output stage and so on, was worth a few semesters of university lectures.  It took me about three weeks to do all that learning.  From there I went on to create my own patented opamp architecture that was much smaller in die area.  That allowed me to place ten opamps on a single chip in 1982.   Granted, no big deal now, but it was much harder to do that in those years.  This is what RE is all about.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Hmmm
Max The Magnificent   2/27/2014 3:30:28 PM
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@LB_Engineer: RE is fundamentally about learning.

Now, I can happily agree with the use of RE as a learning tool -- if I take myself away from the semiconductor industry and consider a mechanical contraption, for example, I can well see myself wanting to take it to bits to see how it works.

dgreigml1
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Reverse Persictive
dgreigml1   2/27/2014 10:59:26 PM
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Okay, this way off whack, but I have always found inspiration from reading maths/physics/chemistry and optics books whilst sat atop the toilet throne.

Born and Wolf, Chapter 1 "Maxwell's Equations" must scare the pants off a fresher but a seasoned electronic engineer can skip that chapter and find a few good bits betwixt the covers.

boblespam
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Nature reverse engineering
boblespam   2/28/2014 2:44:25 AM
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Theres is also Nature reverse engineering, which is quite fun and with no risk to be considered as illegal or unethical. Anybody here has practical experience in that domain ?

dgreigml1
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Re: Nature reverse engineering
dgreigml1   2/28/2014 4:50:09 AM
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Reincarnation? Mental masturßbastion perhaps? I suppose there may be a turd option.

There again perhaps a 4th, speaking as a Buddhist, messed it up in this life so reincarnation is high on the Natures hand of cards, preferance Snow Tiger, Snow Leopard or Peregrine, Ladakh would be lovely.

zewde yeraswork
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Re: Nature reverse engineering
zewde yeraswork   3/3/2014 12:13:58 PM
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I have no experience in that regard, but I find natural RE to be an area of real potential. These kinds of techniques can reap a true reward, and do not run the risk--unlike other forms of RE--of being deemed illegal or unethical, at least I hope not.

ologic
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Ethically chalenged
ologic   2/28/2014 4:46:08 AM
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How about filing for a patent on the process of finding a company that protected an invention via trade secret, figuring out what that secret is, patenting it ... and then suing the original company ?

Fiction ? Think again :

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20081107/0118162765.shtml

prabhakar_deosthali
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re:
prabhakar_deosthali   2/28/2014 7:17:04 AM
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Reverse engineering is a fun, whatever be the legality or illegality behind it.

Way back in 1988, as a free lance assignment, i really enjoyed the reverse engineering of the MS-DOS "debug "program . I used the "debug" program itself to understand its working, its data structures and successfully ported it onto a locally made 8086 development kit.

In my opinion, reverse engineering is a very good learning tool for engineers!

 

 

HankWalker
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Sometimes You RE Your Own Products
HankWalker   2/28/2014 12:06:48 PM
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Reverse engineering must also be used when you are making modifications, improvements, additions to an existing hardware or software product with poor or no documentation (or designers) available. One time I needed to know something, and one designer was on pregnancy leave and the other one was on a honeymoon in Tahiti! At least I knew who the designers were, but I still had to reverse engineer the system to get the answer I needed.

In some sense, reverse engineering is about keeping the system model in sync with the implementation. Or creating a system model if you can't find one.

 

AZskibum
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Re: Sometimes You RE Your Own Products
AZskibum   2/28/2014 12:33:37 PM
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Absolutely! Reverse engineering is often an essential skill when you are tasked with modifying your own company's existing product or re-using IP. Designers come & go, and documentation often lacks important details that another designer needs to know in order to successfully modify a product or IP block. Black box reuse (don't change anything) is a luxury you don't always have on a new product. As soon as you hear the words "reuse with a few changes," it's time to bring out those reverse engineering skills!

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Sometimes You RE Your Own Products
Max The Magnificent   2/28/2014 5:58:14 PM
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@HankWalker: Reverse engineering must also be used when you are making modifications, improvements, additions to an existing hardware or software product with poor or no documentation (or designers) available.

Good point. Early in my carear I spent a lot of time writing functuional test programs for PCBs. I was given a PCB that was claimed to be "known-good" (but after wasn't) and a schematuc that was said to be at the same revision level as the board (but often wasn't) and ... that was it.

It was up to me to try to determine what the board was supposed to do and how it did it, and then write a test program that fully exercised the board. Of course this wa sback in the very early 1980s when boards were much simpler than they are today, but it still gave me a lot of mental exercise.

As a by-product, this was quite possibly the best training I ever received LOL

anon7879002
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Knowing your competitor
anon7879002   2/28/2014 8:37:08 PM
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Sounds like "sometimes" RE occurs beneficially far more often than many may beieve. Not a bad thing.

Aside from doing it with your own products when there's missing info, technologists must invest in staying highly aware of what competitors are doing...obeying Sun Tsu's rule: "Know your enemy." DIY RE now is likely far beyond many internal engieering teams' abilities or time capacity. So a few highly focused businesses offer very specialized expertise and services.

Max The Magnificent
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Re: Knowing your competitor
Max The Magnificent   3/1/2014 10:41:17 AM
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@PR Guy: ...technologists must invest in staying highly aware of what competitors are doing...

I don't have a problem with that -- what I don't like is simply duplicating something that someone else spent a lot of time, money, and creative effort inventing.

Hossmann
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Reverse Eng.
Hossmann   3/1/2014 3:56:24 PM
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Started 1974 and seen so many good and bad reverse eng "copying" or just for evaluation and leverage some. Done some myself in evaluation of NEC's 4K DRAM using 3 trans.

Seen a company copyied our watch and even had our initial still on it. A company approached Align Right Mask making shop and offered $20-25K for our Data Base.

I saw a bad copy of INTELs 2147. And that cost the company millions of dollar. I did a carefull design of 9148 same, one was 4Kx1 and mine was 1Kx4.

Also there was a company in Canada that would do many reverse engineering circuit and "process".

Now with so many metal layers it is a big challenge.

betajet
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Response to poor documentation
betajet   2/28/2014 1:27:10 PM
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I remember when I had to make an RTOS (which we had licensed) interoperate with our code.  The RTOS documentation for the particular instruction architecture was incomplete.  You were supposed to use a "board support package", but if your board wasn't on the list -- e.g., if it was your product rather than a standard development board -- the documentation was simply not there.  (This particular RTOS at one time had excellent, complete documentation for a different architecture, but they had been acquired by a Large Company who obviously felt that complete documentation was unprofitable.)

So I had to disassemble the task switch machine language so that I could see how it was using and saving registers.  Once that was clear, the rest was pretty easy.

MeasurementBlues
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RE: Who copied who?
MeasurementBlues   3/6/2014 12:19:34 PM
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My very first task working in Product Engineering at Analog Devices (1980 and fresh out of college) was to compare an ADC module (yes module at that time) with one from the arch competitor, Analogic. I had samples of both and copies of the ADI schematic so I traced them both. They were identical so I asked the department manager "Who copied who?"

His response: "We copied Bernie."

We never mentioned Analogic by company name, just "Bernie."

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