The Maxon/Ibanez Tubescreamer circuit has been around since the late seventies. No new electronic concepts were present in the design except in combination of plainly accessible op amp "cookbook" elements. Any patents dealing with the original circuit have become public domain, as 20 years is the typical limit for solely profiting from a patent. The U.S. had a 17 year patent term until 1995, when new patents were granted a 20 year term. The point is, after a patent expires, the content is public domain and usable without penalty. Modifying the original circuit to create a derivative, therefore, no longer requires permission from the originator. So, what ethical considerations are there in using these circuits to create one's own devices for personal use? Many of the variations which have emerged in the boutique overdrive pedal market are trivial modifications to the original circuit. How much consideration do we give to the vendor of a pedal who has modified a public domain circuit in a simple way, regardless of whether this produces a revolutionary audible result? Circuit in question:

Views: 1280

Replies to This Discussion

Who's circuit is this?

So has the patent been approved? Can you demonstrate prior art? Patents are strange things, all claims in the invention have to be considered.

As an example of how wacked out the patent world has become - Monsanto owns the patent for Roundup Ready corn. If a bird flies onto your property carrying one kernel of that corn and just happens to drop it in a ditch next to your corn, and Monsanto happens to be driving by and notice a stalk of corn that looks like theirs and just happens to verify that it is Roundup Ready corn, they can have your whole field confiscated even if the rest of the corn was not Roundup Ready corn. And ask yourself what they were doing driving around your property - wonder who actually planted that stray stalk of corn. True story. Tell me that wasn't political.

Yea, but what other claims are in the patent application? I seriously doubt the application is as simple as the above diagram or that Michael Fuller thinks he'll be granted a patent for something that is generally known by all - if it's truly that simple. Remember - all the claims are part of the patent. It could even involve a new process for making that circuit. Anything to get an edge.

And you're not in danger of being sued - IP suits generally involve things like "lost revenue". If I read this right, you're not looking to turn this into a product. Your ethics dilemma is really about something different. But if you can demonstrate prior art, you would have a claim yourself. Sadly, there can't be fat stacks in boutique pedal making.

One could reasonably argue that the way patents are used currently is unethical, and that patents are frequently granted for obvious developments (an example would be the use of dual solid state and valve rectifiers in guitar amps, an idea that was obvious to me within a few months of starting to build amps, only to hear that Randall Smith of Mesa holds a patent on it).

Tube screamer circuits are public domain, and any developments you choose to make for non-commercial use are yours to enjoy. I would also consider that copying directly an existing boutique design for personal use is ethical, unless you would definitely have bought their pedal if you had been unable to build your own version. Likewise if you wanted to clone a pedal now out of production (like the Klon Centaur) that would be entirely ethical even if you sold such klones, because there is no intent to take business from someone.

Worth bearing in mind (and in a wider Christian context too) that ethical and legal are different beasts, and the law may at times permit or require to be done things that are highly unethical.

Tube screamer circuits are public domain, and any developments you choose to make for non-commercial use are yours to enjoy.


Isn't the essence of "public domain" that you are allowed to make money off it?


Also - just because dual rectifiers was obvious to you doesn't make it right to violate a patent. Right? I think we're called to do what is legal and ethical unless the legal thing tries to compel us to violate one of God's commands. Just because a law is not ethical doesn't mean we can or should violate it. 


If we happend to disagree with the patent office as to whom they have granted a patent, that's not grounds for violating it. If you feel you're the one who should hold the patent, you can appeal the situation and claim prior art and seek damages. But if it's just a matter of "that shouldn't have been patented", I think you're out of luck here. That is unless the patent is for something common among all of us for decades like "cheese toast".


Also, just because a patented device is out of production doesn't mean you have a license to hunt. The person holding the patent has every right to seek compensation for any and every device sold in that case. That's what patents are all about and the holder is being defrauded if you don't pay him. That statement alone could be grounds for a new wave of litigation the likes of which could put all the unemployed lawyers back to work for the next 50 years!


For Greg, it's rather harmless to make a device which is a copy, no one's going to sue for a pedal copy created at home. But if the reason for making it is to avoid buying one, I would say that is an ethical dilemma. I also suspect that it's never 100% one or the other.

To me, if something is in the public domain, that means that in this context anything I chose to do with the design including developments of it may be made without restriction.

As for patent violation, there's the question of whether it was ethical for the patent to be granted. So that in the case of dual rectifiers (and in Greg's example, possibly) the law has been broken by a patent being granted for something that was not novel or inventive.

You seem to see the law = ethical, whereas to me, the law and what is 'right or wrong' are quite separate. The thing is, patents are no longer there to protect inventions or inventor, but instead are business weapons that may be wielded by the holder of the biggest bank balance or happens to be US based if fighting a non-US company (I've heard the phrase "see you in court in California before"). So in the case of the MESA patent, no-one among the many small builders could possibly have afforded to fight it, nor had a good reason to do so other that resisting immorality (and that wasn't enough reason to remortgage the house etc).

I have no problem *personally* with someone building something that they would never buy, for personal use only.

I know this is OT, but in all honesty I think the patent system as used now is immoral in some areas, particularly scientific discoveries. I could talk about the Roche PCR patent and the Hybritech double antibody patent, both of which held back the progress of healthcare and diagnostic development. In the case of PCR, what should have become a universal technique was crippled by ridiculous license fees. Compare with Monoclonal antibody technology developed by Kohler & Milstein in the 70s who made the techinques freely available and revolutionised the diagnostics industry within a very few years. Just examples, but these days patents offer little real benefit while doing much harm.

Who's trying to create economic activity? But really, if you create something that helps mankind, of course it should be released for the world to use. Unix was one of those things I think? But a type of amplifier or pedal doesn't help mankind at all. And I'm not so sure it was developed in a university setting.

Monoclonal antibody technology is a long way from amplifiers. One has implications for saving lives, the other is irrelevant and unnecessary for anything vital. Having worked in the past and currently working for a larger company - we get hit with patent infringement claims on a regular basis. And it's the little guys who have the advantage in this system. It's the rascally patent trolls and clever little nerd mice who go out and look for violations of their patents that mess things up, not the big corporations.

They spring from their hiding place after everyone's made all the money and claim damages. The one we're dealing with now is a nobody without any money. And he will soon be filthy rich because he bought the rights to a patent at a fire sale. It was a risk on his part that paid off.

As for the Mesa patent, how do you come up with a law being broken? You disagreeing with it has nothing to do with it's ethics or legal status. Greg having thought of it is irrelevant unless he can prove it was conceived of before Randall. And if you can demonstrate that you thought of the idea first, you can claim damages. My guess is that Randall thought of it many many years before any of us did. He deserves that patent. He's a hard working and inventive man who has made a positive impact to the amplifier industry. And I don't think he's getting filthy rich off dual rectifiers either. That's a tough business to make a buck in. 

To your last point, it's true that this gets misused and I would like to see some reform on this point. But it's not a problem with patents, its a problem with laws that come into place after the patents are granted. Monsanto and Roundup-Ready seeds are a perfect example of the law going too far. Laws and penalties that get put in place are unfair and wrong. But that's not the patent office at fault.

And no, I don't see the law as ethical, but I see Christians as needing to follow the law as long as it doesn't try to compel them to do something that is against Christian morals. Case in point - just because you think Mesa shouldn't have that patent, it doesn't mean you should go violate it. No one is compelling you to make that device and no one is taking your dinner away if you don't. Do you think you invented it first? Can you prove it? If so, you can fight it. But just having the thought isn't enough, you need proof. Not a lot of money, just proof. If it's a solid claim, a firm will take you on pro-bono in a heartbeat.

Looks to me like the way you perceive patents is very different from me. That's fine.

Quickly - MESA patent - not inventive - should not be patentable & should not require someone to contest it for the patent to be refused. etc. Patent granted = patent system broken. Messrs Brownnote (another person who hasn't got rich from building amps) et al would have more insight on who invented it, since they'd been doing it a long time before I came on the scene.

Agree about following the law. Our laws may be different from yours. :-D

The original thrust of this was about ethics, and that's why I separated my arguments. For me, it may be ethical to break the law, even if it is 'neutral' in respect of Christianity, but breaking that law may be considered wrong in the light of the passage you reference. If I see a law I don't agree with then I need to understand if I disagree because it's something I *don't like* or because it goes against what I see as *right and wrong*. A trivial example might be where one crosses the road: in the UK you can cross the road where ever there is a space between cars, but in the US I've had a policeman start to draw on me when I began to cross an empty road. Which law is right - which one (if either) is ethically right etc.

The Fuller claim isn't as simple as the diagram above. There are 9 claims in that one and they include all of the special circuitry surrounding the block diagram. So when Greg says:

I considered it an apparent and obvious modification to the circuit to try to do this to the two-stage TS circuit by using asymmetrical clipping in the gain stage, and adding symmetrical clipping to the boost stage.

That's precisely the point and why there are 9 claims in this patent. Michael knows that and is trying to convince the patent office that HIS idea is novel and a true advancement of the state of the art. So just putting those two stages in place is not a novel idea and will not violate his patent, should he be granted one. You have to violate every claim to violate the patent.

Frankly, as I read his application, I was impressed. It's the LED sag circuit that cinches it for me. Bravo Michael, good idea. 

The Dual Rectifier patent to Mesa that we discussed was granted in 1992 and seems to have only two claims - a) A solid state and vacuum tube rectifier on board at the same time and 2) User selectability.

Here's a clue to why the patent was granted:

"improves upon the state of the art by providing selectable rectification modes".

Apparently the patent office bought into it. I think it also has to be a power supply that powers a vacuum tube amplifier, even though that's not in the claims.

So tough luck if BrownNote thought of it first but can't demonstrate it. Did BrownNote exist before 1992? I don't recall seeing them around back then. That you or I disagree with the patent office's granting of this one is irrelevant to the morality of it. It's immoral to violate it frankly. No one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to make the thing. And it certainly isn't saving any lives.

But back to the original thought - Greg was looking for ethical considerations. That simple block design won't violate a patent. Go for it. Just make sure you read the application well and understand his design so you can design around it. Wait, no one's coming after you even if you copy it claim by claim. But should you?

Also note that Michael Fuller's claim is for an "effects pedal". So implied in the 9 claims are that it's a pedal. If you build it as a rack effect or a breadboard, it's not relevant. Again, look at all 9 claims, that's key. 

It's claim number: 20120192703

Another thing to realize is that it will be very hard for someone to claim they thought of this first - it's so specific (down to the pair of LED's for a sag circuit") that anyone presenting the exact same claim would be suspected of fraud. OR vice versa.

Yes, but if you're liking what you hear in a Timmy and you go to copy it, you're definitely keeping money out of his humble pockets.

But my gosh, if you look at all the doodads he has tacked onto that idea, it would be hard to copy Fuller's idea without being deliberate.

I would venture to guess that Fuller isn't the only guy doing patents on Tubescreamer foundations. Might want to check into that. How you would know who to look for is difficult at best.


© 2023       Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service