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MegaSquirt® EFI Licenses and Copyrights

The MegaSquirt® EFI project has really grown in the past few years, and with any project it is important to keep a sense of direction and focus.

In the last year both Al and Bruce have been so involved in the day-to-day operation of the project that the new development has been slowed a bit, at least from what we know we are capable of. A lot of the redirection of time and effort has been on keeping the supply chain running.

Another aspect consuming our time is the part of all of this that is not so "spirited" - trying to manage the project's resources and direction to keep it true to its original principles while preventing unscrupulous people from tearing the MegaSquirt project apart.

The MegaSquirt project has really grown in popularity and at this point we are approaching the capability of many high-end aftermarket electronic management systems. The other production EMS units out there are fantastic products, there has been a lot of effort spent on developing these units and they operate and do the job - we have nothing but high regard for their efforts. We co-exist with the "big-boys" fine, we can do this because we fill a niche area of self-sufficient, motivated, and curious 'gearheads'. In the aftermarket world there is a lot of demographics/markets to target, and we choose to be in the space where the users are more grassroots and DIY oriented (or at least interested).

At this point we are supplying the segment of aftermarket EFI users who are 'technology extremists' - they will do their homework up-front to learn how an EFI system operates, implement it, and come away happy because not only did they get it working, they understood how to do it and how it worked. Everyone reading this is in this class - it is not enough to get it working, you must know how it works and how to get the most out of it, even if it means a bit of personal experimentation to get there. This is what sets those of us in the MegaSquirt® community apart from the 'others' - you know, those who don't care how it works, as long as it works.

Founding Principles

As you know we have stressed the education part of the MegaSquirt® EFI project - we feel it is important to understand how EFI works before attempting to implement it. And we think we have done a pretty good job of doing this, including the aspects of engine control, hardware and embedded software. It also helps build a community of knowledgeable users that can help other users, and help users to become developers, if they wish. This was the intent from day one.

Some 13 years ago we were involved in a project known as EFI332. We designed a hardware platform and developed code that was specific to a V8 Chevy. It was a full sequential injection and ignition implementation. We learned a lot on that project, particularly that it takes a certain skill set to pull this off - part hardware, part software, part engineer, and part physicist.

Back in 2001 when we hatched the whole MegaSquirt® project idea, we understood we would be attempting to pull off something pretty big. In order to make something "Do-It-Yourself" two critical requirements were to:

  1. Make the code/hardware/interface as simple as it could be and still be functional, and
  2. Share the details of how MegaSquirt® EFI controllers work with users so that they can learn.

The original MegaSquirt® EFI controller was very simple. Along with the full disclosure of how it worked, this allowed people to not only to get their vehicle running, but to use MegaSquirt® EFI controllers in ways no one ever dreamed possible. Though it seems a bit silly now, the idea that anyone who wasn't already an experienced electronics assembler/designer with an understanding of embedded code could build and run their own EFI controller was revolutionary in MegaSquirt®'s early days. The MegaSquirt® EFI project itself became the tool by which people learned all they needed to know about fuel injection, electronics, embedded code, and tuning. This required careful planning and an enormous of work on all aspects of the project, from the code and hardware side, to the documentation and support aspects. In turn, interested users learned things like assembly language programming and electronic design principles from the documentation, and used this knowledge to make extensions to MegaSquirt® EFI controllers.

But when the MegaSquirt® project was hatched, we also knew that we would be walking a fine line with the way we deployed the project. We wanted the project to have free expression of ideas as they pertained directly to MegaSquirt® and engine control. At the same time, we realized that we would be creating a monster of sorts. We knew that at some point the MegaSquirt® project would have commercial value, and would attract some individuals who would like to either capitalize on the project or claim ownership. We put a lot of thought into this and came up with the arrangement for MegaSquirt® hardware/software, supply mechanisms, and development. It is very simple and has been the same since the beginning. The project's schematics and software source codes are available for any home user/educator to use, experiment, modify, etc. (which every MegaSquirt® user has done). The MegaTune software is also extremely flexible - if you can conceive of an new idea, and implement it within the existing the hardware/code, then chances are very good that MegaTune can accommodate it. The limitation is in the hardware itself - any commercial venture where the hardware is duplicated needs to be licensed, and the software needs to be run on licensed hardware. Again this is only for resale purposes only - home and school use the boards can be duplicated in small quantities as long as prior permission is sought from, and granted by, B&G. To restate this: No Bowling and Grippo board may be copied for any purpose without the express permission of Bowling and Grippo, regardless of whether it will be used with other legitimate B&G hardware or not.

Commercial Considerations

Why would we license the hardware for commercial use? We understood that this project would be very successful right from the beginning. We also knew that at some point people would like to be able to use their knowledge to either extend the project or to offer it to others who lack the skill set required to get this thing going. The one incentive for them would be to have a capability to make a little money with this project. We feel that if someone puts a significant effort into something that they should have a means for reward if they desire. So the only restriction placed on the hardware was that for commercial use a person needs to coordinate their efforts with us. In addition, those who want to offer MegaSquirt hardware as a reseller we have an extremely simple mechanism in place for this. The reseller network we have now has sprung up directly from this project, and many are using MegaSquirt® to feed their families and pay their employees. The mechanism to become a reseller is straightforward and several have taken advantage of this to their benefit.

Early on, we wanted MegaSquirt® to achieve a balance between low cost and at the same time be just profitable enough to maintain its own existence. This balance point is a really hard thing to pinpoint because project costs change as time goes on. We have had enough economic education to know that any enterprise needs a minimum cash flow to stay alive, the required amount of cash flow depends on many factors. For example, we need to order in large enough quantities to take advantage of the economies of scale. This keeps the price down for everyone, but it can only happen if there is enough cash-flow up-front to order large quantities of boards, processors, etc. However, in all cases, our selling prices is only slightly above the cost of production - just enough to generate the required cash flow to meet demand and develop new products for the users. No-one could order small quantities of top-quality boards and sell them for less than what we do. We can honestly say that the MegaSquirt® project is not a 'Profit Center' by any means. None of the originators make money off this project - despite occasional and uninformed accusations by some unscrupulous people that some people getting 'filthy rich' off of MegaSquirt® related activities. In fact, if we wanted to get rich, things would be run much differently than they are now.

The MegaSquirt® project is unique in that it is a venture where profit is not the driving force, in fact it is one of the lower priorities. But there is a minimum cash-flow where the entire project can self-sustain itself. The expenses are many even on a simple project like this. Specifics like forums, web sites, supply chain, and new product development are ever present costs. Over time the minimums needs to be maintained in order to keep the project funded, supported, and growing.

Now consider an alternate world where the hardware is free for anyone to sell at any price by anyone:

With the success of MegaSquirt® what we are also seeing are a few instances where individuals are taking the knowledge that they have garnered with MegaSquirt® and redirecting it into ventures that are counter to the spirit of MegaSquirt®. What see are two different counterfeit aspects - one is to take the is MegaSquirt® hardware/firmware and duplicate for resale, and the other is to develop other similar MegaSquirt®-like efforts based on the MegaSquirt infrastructure or clone efforts. These efforts have leveraged the open information exchange of MegaSquirt® in order to foster their own agendas. Somehow these entities think that there is no such thing as intellectual property rights, only their rights to pilfer other people's honest efforts. For them it is not about a unique project or respect for other's efforts, it's all about their agendas and their personal gain, be in money or personal popularity. In doing so, they undercut the entire MegaSquirt® community.

What is telling about such efforts is that they only spring up when the original project has gained 'critical mass' and has become popular. These projects never begin with original efforts on original subjects. In the automotive world there are thousands of untapped projects just waiting to be done - ignition ion sensing, traction control, electronic differential control, regenerative braking and kinetic energy recovery, vehicle networking, etc. are all wide-open, but never seem to be tackled - only the areas that have already been addressed are the ones that are targeted with redundant efforts.

Luckily, we knew that this issue would arise eventually and put measures into place to prevent it:

  1. First, we offer the hardware for sale by anyone who wants to be a distributor that resells MegaSquirt® hardware. Distributors (aka. "resellers") by MegaSquirt hardware in quantity from Bowling and Grippo, and resell it, either including the many non-B&G items as part of a kit (often making the kit cheaper than the user could buy everything him/herself, not to mention much more convenient - both an advantage to the end user - so everyone benefits!) and/or by assembling kits for sale as completed units.

    This one act alone makes it possible for anyone who contributes to this project to share in the gains directly. What has happened is that several resellers have come into existence and now provides means for support. This is the NUMBER ONE reason why the MegaSquirt® project is successful - its not the chips or the code or the wires, its the SUPPORT. We have outstanding resellers who will go the last mile to make sure your installation works and help if you have issues along the way. They never get the credit they deserve for the outstanding efforts, so always thank them for their help and assistance. Again they are number one.

  2. The second avenue for MegaSquirt® hardware is a direct license agreement for commercial modifications. This is a really simple process where a license is secured for modification and expansion of the MegaSquirt® hardware, and the use of all of the MegaSquirt infrastructure. There is a reason why we (B&G) have left the generic MegaSquirt® hardware in a somewhat simple form - this is to allow others who want to expand or concentrate the hardware for a specific implementation. In this manner we provide an avenue for real innovation without direct competition. This provides a level playing field with the technology and helps eliminate duplication of efforts (which in turn leads to price erosion and eventual destruction). For instance, Spectre Performance took the basic MS-I setup and extended the hardware to control everything but the kitchen sink - this was an effort which expanded the MS-I device and was not in competition with other projects. Again, the B&G hardware for MegaSquirt® EFI controllers up to now have been pretty basic, purposely allowing others to expand on it.

Intellectual Property Rights

As far as intellectual property (IP) rights, people often confuse "open-source" and intellectual property. As stated earlier, we all know that the MegaSquirt® firmware is targeted to MegaSquirt® hardware, and there are avenues available for those who wish to leverage this for their own products. The base software is copyrighted by B&G and the Extra software is additionally copyrighted by the extra-project contributors. Although the source code is available for use and modification, the copyright dictates its use on specific hardware. And the intellectual properties are also copyrighted. As well, aspects of the MegaSquirt® system are patented. In fact, when applying for a patent ALL aspects of the device needs to be disclosed, this disclosure is what dictates the intellectual property. This protects the firmware's IP regardless of any re-write activity - it does not matter if it is in Java, C++, or Fortran. As our attorney says, "There are thousands of words out there but they can arranged in a certain order and copyrighted". Conversely, you cannot take an existing copyrighted work, such as a novel, and publish it another font or a different page size, or even another language, and claim it as an original work. It is the idea behind the work that is copyrighted, not the details of its form. This works equally with songs, books, and computer software. What we are conveying here is based on direct legal counsel but we urge people to consult an attorney on this subject if they have questions, and certainly before taking any actions.

Here is a good web site on the subject of "Contributory Infringement" and the protection of intellectual property:

MegaSquirt® and MicroSquirt® controllers are experimental devices intended for educational purposes.
MegaSquirt® and MicroSquirt® controllers are not for sale or use on pollution controlled vehicles. Check the laws that apply in your locality to determine if using a MegaSquirt® or MicroSquirt® controller is legal for your application.
©2008, 2013 Bruce Bowling and Al Grippo. All rights reserved. MegaSquirt® and MicroSquirt® are registered trademarks. This document is solely for the support of MegaSquirt® boards from Bowling and Grippo.