In a lawsuit filed in federal court recently, Autodesk alleges that the Open Design Alliance has infringed on its trademark (see Autodesk Sues Open Design Alliance for Trademark Infringement, by Randall Newton, AECnews.com).
Who is ODA? And why is Autodesk going after them?
The Open Design Alliance (formerly Open DWG Alliance) is an organization dedicated first and foremost to reverse engineering AutoCAD's DWG files. This service is of great value to ODA members, many of which produce CAD programs that compete with AutoCAD, as it gives them the ability to read and write DWG files.
For Autodesk, this must have seemed like watching thieves in their market. Autodesk has long stated that the DWG format was part of their "intellectual property" and so must have chafed at the idea of rival CAD programs being able to read and generate DWG files rather than put up the big bucks for AutoCAD -- or at least AutoCAD LT. Many CAD insiders wondered why Autodesk even "allowed" the ODA to operate unchallenged.
Autodesk's last straw was the reverse engineering of AutoCAD 2007 by the ODA. In an attempt to distinguish "genuine" AutoCAD files from ones that were reverse engineered, Autodesk introduced a "watermark" in its DWG files. As it does with every AutoCAD release, the ODA went to work deciphering the proprietary DWG 2007 format, right down to reproducing the trademarked watermark, thereby negating any advantage Autodesk had created. When interviewed in October about ODA reverse engineering the watermark, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass stated that the copying of the watermark "was a concern." (see Interview with Carl Bass; Part 1, by Martyn Day, MCAD Online, November 6, 2006)
From the story that appeared in AECnews.com, it appears that Autodesk is confining its legal action to the use of the watermark rather than attack the overall operation of the ODA. If successful, this legal action would certainly disrupt Autodesk's competetition as ODA members would be forced to strip offending code from their products. However, the ODA could easily come back with a reverse engineered 2007 DWG format sans the watermark and the competition would be back in business in a short time.
But can ODA defend itself and recover? The ODA has been embroiled in a scandal that has left it leaderless. Over $500,000 has been reported missing from its treasury -- money that would certainly help in a fight against Autodesk (see Open Design Alliance Puts Yares on Administrative Leave, Randall Newton, AECNews.com, October 11, 2006) [In fact, I wonder if with proper leadership the lawsuit may even have been avoided. Autodesk claims to have sent a cease and desist letter about the watermark in November that went unanswered]
It remains to be seen if this lawsuit is the first salvo of a bigger battle. In other words, does Autodesk plan to shut down ODA or be content with exclusive use of the watermark?