Does your garage door opener violate the DMCA?

A very interesting legal case continues between Chamberlain Corporation (manufacturers of garage door systems) and Skylink (a third party company that sells ‘compatible’ openers), wherein Chamberlain sued Skylink for violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, claiming that its “rolling code” security system was patented, and therefore Skylink reverse-engineering it for the Skylink remote was a patent violation….

From reading the case summary (PDF), I believe that Chamberlain has a valid case and that Skylink is indeed in violation of the software patent when it figured out the rolling code system and reimplemented it on its own garage door openers.

The case is also interesting as it gives a bit of insight into the garage door market. For example:

IV. Skylink’s sale of its model 39 universal transmitter is destroying chamberlain’s market for universal transmitters and chamberlain’s sales of clicker universal transmitters.

Consumers normally buy Chamberlain’s GDOs [garage door openers] with one or more transmitters… since 1998, Chamberlain has sold a line of universal transmitters under the name CLICKER for use either as additional transmitters with Chamberlain’s GDOs or as additional transmitters for GDO’s made by other manufacturers.

… unlike Skylink’s accused model 39 universal transmitter, Chamberlain’s CLICKER universal transmitter does not circumvent security measures for controlling access … for example, the CLICKER does not circumvent the encryption algorithm that is used as a security measure for Genie’s GDOs, and therefore, does not operate Genie’s Intellicode rolling code software.

I believe that Chamberlain has a strong case if indeed the code is patented, and also see some irony that it has a substantial business selling the very same product that Skylink is now marketing with such success.

However, it’s curious that they’ve invoked the DMCA, of all things. The DMCA was intended to protect copyrighted materials on the Internet and through other electronic access systems, and however far you stretch it, it’s impossible to believe that garage door openers were on the short list of technologies to protect. Yet they observe that the DMCA addresses anything that “effectively controls access to a work.”

Makes me wonder if lock companies are going to claim that electronically enhanced locks (even an LED indicator) allow them to utilize the DMCA for legal protection? If so, Matt Blaze at AT&T is bound to get into trouble soon for his dissemination of how to create master keys in today’s New York Times (registration required).

I don’t disagree that Chamberlain has a case against Skylink for violation of patents, note, I’m just surprised and intrigued that the company opted to use the DMCA for the foundation of its legal claim, rather than simply the patent violation, which seems considerably more logical.

7 comments on “Does your garage door opener violate the DMCA?

  1. My idea is if Skylink design their own software, then this case is not for DMCA case. Otherwise we can not buy the replacement product and the original manufacturer will not have competitor if they put the microchip with the original parts.
    Finally, the consumer will pay a lot of money to buy the replacement product.

  2. On November 13, 2003, the District Court granted Skylink’s motion for summary judgment on the DMCA claim, finding that there was no DMCA violation.

  3. This was a very interesting case as a lot of manufacturers in the garage door market were watching this. I believe Chamberlain even tried to take Microchip (the company that owned the rolling technology) to court over this, it seemed very costly for SkyLink.
    We have a device that automatically closes your garage door when you forget called so we have heard a lot of interesting stories regarding this issue, we don’t know if they’re all true though.

  4. All along I have been preaching to my customers and they were also asked to take the
    skylink piece of junk transmitter back to where they recieved it and in most (all) cases they did. From extensive and past experience I’ve found that the Skylink Remote on occasion will confuse the openers internal motherboard and cause problems. Also as I show up to program my transmitter along with theirs this can be a huge waste of my time to finally find out mine made for the paticular opener can not be programmed in. Devices like these should not be used period. If it was not made along with or manufactured for under that paticular manufacturers name,.it should not be used. Useing sheer common sense,this is truely Patents Infringement. All Manufacturers have been shorted (from most all other Garage Door Companies)sales of their remote because of Skylinks toy they made. Built in car remotes although sleek in design should not be used either for I’ve had one event and problem after another.

  5. Further, Liftmaster,Chamberlain,Genie,Multicode,Stanley,Craftsman,and others I do not believe nor think those companies would agree it,s ok to come behind them with duplicate remotes to sell instead of their own. They are all being ripped off and reasons for: Outlet stores that sell these havent thoroughly looked into the resale of this product for possible Patents infringements to cause future lawsuit and Skylink has created a “device or instrument” that known to anyone is a remote or transmitter wheather it is permanently installed or hand held sole purpose is to activatate a certain operation such as a garage door opener manufactured under a certain name. Anyhow these remotes have caused so much problems but any Goody Door Company is going to waste their own time and their employees and loose sale of their own remote so Mercedes or Home Depot can make a sale. Can someone correct me on my thoughts here? If you seriously tink Im wrong…..

  6. I agree, Chamberlain did use interesting approach in this case. They went to court without real argument. No wonder they lost in this case. On the other case, I’m happy that there is more companies producing universal garage door remotes, specially because that means lower prices for us customers.

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