Sunday, July 11, 2004

Counterfeit batteries? The DMCA strikes again.

The LawGeek noticed this NEC Electronics Press Release: July 6, 2004.
"NEC Electronics' Software for Microcontrollers Verifies Authenticity of Mobile Phone and Digital Still Camera Batteries

KAWASAKI, Japan, and DUESSELDORF, Germany, July 6, 2004 -
NEC Electronics Corporation (TSE: 6723) and its subsidiary in Europe, NEC Electronics (Europe) GmbH, introduces a new software for microcontrollers that detects counterfeit battery products in mobile phones and digital still camera batteries. ..."
In other words, if you put a cheap replacement battery in a device equipped with this software, the device will reject it. You will be obligated to buy manufacturer-approved batteries. Neat for the manufacturer, who will have a captive market, not for the consumer or battery maker.

Why can't competing battery makers simply make batteries that tell the device that they are the real thing? That's why the LawGeek was interested. Any manufacturer whose batteries mimic the authentication codes of the manufacturer's batteries may be guilty of violating the DMCA.

And this isn't something that will be limited to NEC products. NEC is licensing the software to any manufacturer willing to pay the price. Again from the NEC press release.
"The software will be introduced in Japanese digital cameras by year's end and is expected to be used in 50 million units by 2007. The software is ideal for use in mobile phones and batteries, but NEC Electronics is also considering extending this technology to "smart" keys, printers and ink cartridges, as well as bundling the technology into hardware options.

Pricing and Availability
The software is available now. Pricing dependent on volume; please contact for details."
Here is a market innovation that does nothing to help the consumer. Manufacturers must pay NEC to use the software, thus increasing the original price of the product. Then consumers are locked into using only the manufacturer's replacement parts, thus eliminating competition in that area and gouging the consumer a second time.

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