February 03, 2005

IP On You

The recent report of aircraft companies seeking oppresive royalties from model manufacturers has been getting some attention in the blogosphere. Railroad modelers are facing similar issues, but with some twists of interest to anyone who cares about Intellectual Property issues.

The Chessie System has product value worth protecting in the sleeping kitten trademark, and hobbyists understand this. At one point their lawyers got the notion that in order to protect a trademark you had to charge per usage of it, and they went after the producers of model railroad decals and collectables. The first time this happened they backed down, but now they corporation is again talking of making it more expensive to model the Chessie and its predecessors than to model other railroads.

The Union Pacific is taking things farther. Along with royalties set about right to take the profit out of producing UP model products, they are claiming extraordinary IP rights. Upon completion of production of any model of Union Pacific rolling stock, locomotives or structure, they insist that the tooling revert to the corporation. This could have repercussions if used as a precedent in other fields of endeavor.

These railroads are being foolish. Altho, lucky for them, model railroaders are not political enough to rise up and organise a boycott, it is wondrously easy not to model the Union Pacific. Aside from the many competitors who see no need to resort to such measures, there is also a glorious tradition known as freelancing. One of the first truly great model railroads was the Gorre and Daphetid and I can expect as much acceptence and nearly as many contest points for models of Phoenix - Durango rolling stock as for those with known prototypes. There is also a trend toward starting over in a new scale and/or gauge; there may well be a disproportionate number of HO scale UP models cut up by people switching to On30.

The biggest reason that the Union Pacific is foolish for being so anal about trademark and IP is that altho their business is booming right now they are in competition with other railroads and with other forms of transportation. There are demographic reasons why antagonizing model railroaders and railfans is likely to be detrimental to the marketing of transportation service. Adverse publicity could cost more in core revenue that might me gained in fringe royalties.

Posted by triticale at February 3, 2005 11:55 PM
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