Chamberlain Appeals Landmark Technology Ruling

© 2003 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Winter 2003
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Page 42

Chamberlain Appeals Landmark Technology Ruling

In November 2003, a federal judge in Chicago ruled that a garage door transmitter that is designed to replace a competitor's transmitter does not violate the nation's digital copyright law. Mark Tone of The Chamberlain Group says he was disappointed in the ruling, believing it will decrease the security offered by rolling-code transmitters.

Chamberlain has appealed the decision, which was in favor of Skylink Technologies of Mississauga, Ontario. Skylink makes universal transmitters that work with many brands of residential garage door openers including Chamberlain, LiftMaster, Genie, Overhead, Wayne-Dalton, Linear, and others.

Technology companies around the world closely watched the months-long court battle. The case is among the first to test the limits of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Skylink's Position

Skylink claims that a homeowner who owns a garage door opener has the right to open the garage door with any device he or she chooses. Some digital rights and civil liberties organizations supported Skylink's position, believing that a ruling in favor of Chamberlain would stifle innovation and increase prices.

Skylink's CEO, Philip Tsui, says the ruling will encourage free market competition that benefits the consumer. “We are gratified that the District Court has allowed consumers to select whatever brand of transmitter they want to use to open their own garages,” explains Tsui.

Chamberlain's Position

Mark Tone, Chamberlain's executive vice president of administration, however, told Door & Access Systems that the issue is not that Skylink's universal transmitter gives consumers a choice of products.

“The issue … is that Skylink's particular transmitter ‘tricks' a rolling-code … receiver into believing it is learning a fixed-code device,” says Tone. “In essence, it is training a Skylink universal transmitter to communicate to a rolling-code secure garage door opener.”

Thus, Tone feels the Skylink transmitter at issue defeats the security protection offered by rolling-code transmitters. “We find it hard to believe this is a benefit to consumers, particularly given Skylink's failure to adequately advise consumers of this issue,” he adds.

Like TV Remote Controls

In announcing her ruling in the case, Federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer compared garage door transmitters to universal television remote controls.

“The homeowner has a legitimate expectation that he or she will be able to access the garage even if his or her transmitter is misplaced or malfunctions,” she explains.

The court's decision is expected to affect other pending technology and intellectual property cases. For example, Lexmark has sued Static Control Components, alleging that under the DMCA it's illegal for the toner cartridge firm to sell computer chips that match remanufactured cartridges and make them work with Lexmark printers.