Clean room design

From Academic Kids

Clean room design is the method of copying a design by reverse engineering and then recreating it without infringing any of the copyrights and trade secrets associated with the original design. Clean room design is useful as a defense against infringement because it relies on independent invention. Because independent invention is not a defense against patents, clean room designs typically cannot be used to circumvent patent restrictions.

The term implies that the design team works in an environment that is 'clean', or demonstrably uncontaminated by any knowledge of the proprietary techniques used by the competitor.

Typically, a clean room design is done by having someone examine the system to be reimplemented and having this person write a specification. This specification is then reviewed by a lawyer to ensure that no copyrighted material is included. The specification is then implemented by a team with no connection to the original examiners.

A famous example is that of Compaq who built the first clone of an IBM computer through a clean room implementation of its BIOS.

Another example of this technique is for designing the structure and operation of companies which have agreed to merge. In April 2005, SBC Communications and AT&T announced that independent business consultants were using clean room design techniques to develop recommendations for the structure and operations of their upcoming newly-merged company. The work is kept secret until the companies actually close on the merger deal, then the results will be presented to upper management. This approach allows the companies to adhere to business laws while they are still competitors, but gives the newly-merged company a headstart in its structure and operations, when all legal rules have been satisifed for the merger.

Clean room design is also known as the Chinese wall technique.

The term clean room used on its own has a different meaning in the field of integrated circuit manufacture.

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