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.
"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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!