[OpenBIOS] Intel holding back information

Timothy J. Massey tmassey at iname.com
Mon Aug 9 00:32:46 CEST 1999

On Sun, 8 Aug 1999 20:02:20 -0400, David J. Coffin wrote:

>On Sun, Aug 08, 1999 at 05:35:25PM -0230, James Oakley wrote:
>> "Timothy J. Massey" wrote:
>> > Even if your BIOS bears no resemblance to the one you disassembled, because
>> > you *did* disassemble it, the makers of the BIOS you disassembled can say to
>> > you, "But you saw our code and did it yourself.  That's illegal."  And
>> > they'd be right.
>     Reverse engineering is very legal in Sweden, although it
>may soon be illegal in the USA.  There wouldn't *be* any BIOS
>industry today if Phoenix hadn't reverse-engineered IBM's code.
>     So Phoenix, which now owns Award, is going to prosecute
>some college student in Sweden for doing exactly what they did.
>Not likely.

No, they would prosecute some college student in Sweden for breaking the
law.  Phoenix was **VERY** careful in how they reverse-engineered IBM's
BIOS.  There were two teams.  Team one disassembled the IBM code and wrote a
detailed english-language description of what IBM did:  This function when
called this way does this.  No code was contained in this description.

Team two had **NEVER** (not once, not ever) in any way disassembled any BIOS
code ever, had never seen IBM's code ever, etc.  They took that
english-language description and wrote their own code.  Even if there were
parts of the code that were exactly identical, it wouldn't have mattered,
because they came up with them on their own.  That's why it's called "clean
room" development.  The guys that have never seen the code they're trying to
copy are in a clean room:  free from suspicion.

*That* is perfectly legal.  But once having seen copyrighted code, you
**cannot** write code that does the same thing without opening the
possiblity of lawsuit.  I'm not saying that they'd win, but there is the
possibility of a lawsuit.  And if **any** similarity was found (even if it
were coincidental), you would lose.

>> This is very true. A couple of years back, some guys who worked for
>> Matrox quit and started their own video chipset company. Matrox
>> successfully blocked their entry into the market because they saw
>> proprietary Matrox engineering information.
>     Not the same thing.  Those engineers had to sign stacks of
>non-disclosure and non-competition agreements before they could
>see Matrox's designs.  They clearly violated those contracts.

Even if they hadn't, they would still have been in the wrong.  If I'm an
engine designer for Ford and leave to start my own engine-designing company,
Ford would have every right to go over my designs with a fine-tooth comb. 
And if something even coincidentally looked the same, I would be in big

That doesn't mean that I couldn't leave Ford and start my company.  Look at
Lee Iacocca (sp?), or John DeLorean.  But it opens the *possibility* of

>     Niklaus would be taking a bigger risk if he signed Intel's
>NDA.  Right now, he has no legal obligation to protect anyone's

And once Niklaus signed Intel's NDA, he would be UNABLE to contribute to
OpenBIOS.  Ever.

>     If a disgruntled chemist at Coca-Cola gave you their secret
>formula, he would be in deep trouble.  But no one could stop you
>from selling cola drink (you couldn't *call* it "Coca-Cola", of
>course), or posting the formula on the web.

Yes they could.  If I were given the text of a book from a disgruntled
publishing employee, and I put it on my website, could I be prosecuted?  Not
until I was told of the copyright violation.  But once I was told, that's
it.  I am open to prosecution.

And, if I were found publishing a manuscript that was given to me, and it
was found that the manuscript was not owned by the person who gave it to me
(just as if I were given the secret Coke formula by an unauthorized person),
I would be in big trouble.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse:  it's still

So, all of the actions that you describe are quite illegal.  Duplication of
copyrighted material is a crime.  Period.  And once you've seen copyrighted
material, copying that material (even if it's by rewriting it yourself from
your understanding of that material) in any way opens you up to possible
prosecution as well.

Tim Massey

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