Who owns DWG?

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With rumours that Autodesk has been making plans to patent the use of the term DWG, Martyn Day looks at the reasons behind this move and the potential impact on the CAD industry.

There are some interesting rumblings coming over from vendors in the United States saying that Autodesk is attempting, and in some way succeeding, in getting DWG trademarked. In these litigious times, it may be a surprise that the term DWG, the native file format for AutodeskÝs flagship product, AutoCAD, wasnÝt originally trademarked by the company. It seems that most file format extensions since have been, but not DWG.

While this may have been an oversight on AutodeskÝs part, DWG has, with the popularity of AutoCAD, become synonymous with CAD data and nearly every major CAD system has some sort of DWG Import or Export. ItÝs almost the basic currency of design; itÝs a ubiquitous de facto standard. It seems that over the past four or five years Autodesk has been making moves to get the patent on the use of DWG, the term. According to company CEO, Carl Bass, he feels that some firms were misappropriating it, so the company has taken steps to protect what it deems its format and usage of the term.

You donÝt have to look very far to see whatÝs narking Autodesk. In the mid-range MCAD (Mechanical CAD) market, Autodesk is in a gunfight with SolidWorks over the cross-grade/upgrade of all those millions of AutoCAD users. SolidWorks has put considerable effort into producing DWG-based products to alleviate legacy issues for AutoCAD customers that move to SolidWorks, as well as providing translation tools between the various versions of DWG which, at the time, Autodesk was not providing. By lobbing these spanners in the works, SolidWorks was getting under the skin of AutodeskÝs management team. The long term play for Autodesk was to get DWG trademarked and remove the right for other vendors to create products with DWG in the title, or even use DWG in their manuals as a term.

Open Design Alliance

The Open Design Alliance (ODA) is a not-for-profit company which was set up by Autodesk competitors to pool their funding and to reverse engineer the DWG format. In return members of the project get to use the DWG libraries that the company produces. You will find ODA libraries in SolidWorks, Bentley MicroStation, TurboCAD, SpaceClaim ± nearly everyone that Autodesk competes with.

The proliferation of non-AutoCAD generated DWGs is another cause for AutodeskÝs concern. With products like Bentley MicroStation happy to work in its native DGN format or DWG, Autodesk has claimed that the ODA has caused many tech support calls which were cause by bad DWGs. To put a spanner in the ODAÝs works, Autodesk implemented a multi-prong approach to tackling them. Autodesk produced its own DWG libraries, ÙRealDWGÝ which it licenses to friendly companies or swaps for mutual access, as it has done with PTC (which also dropped out of the ODA). Autodesk also altered the DWG format so that it included an encrypted portion which contained a simple sentence comprising trade mark terms like Autodesk. RealDWG files would have this and AutoCAD would detect DWGs that did not and warn the user they were about to open a non-Autodesk DWG file. The system worked like a watermark. The ODA decided to include the watermark and Autodesk sued them, with the ODA reversing that decision.

Now we have Autodesk trademarking DWG, the ÙwordÝ. Lawyers acting for the other CAD companies have been fighting this in the USA but it seems ultimately that Autodesk is winning and is already telling vendors to stop using the term DWG. We understand that the battle is now moving to European courts where Autodesk is seeking the same trade mark and the competitive developers are trying to put up the same defence. They argue that DWG is a standard abbreviation now and that it canÝt be trademarked. It will be interesting to follow this as it progresses.

Autodesk sees the ODA as a company that arms its competitors. Bentley has used the ODA to license DGN libraries but as Autodesk isnÝt a member it canÝt use them, which causes issues every time Autodesk buys a company which is an ODA member or user. As a result Autodesk has had to reverse engineer its own DGN libraries.

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Conclusion

While this may look like a big bun fight, there could be implications for users and vendors that use DWG or DWG-compatible products. It will affect what other vendors can say about their products and could impact the usage of DWG on the web, media and technical documentation. Autodesk feels that it is protecting its IP and from a certain perspective thatÝs understandable. The question is why does Autodesk need to do this now when its business is romping away in all of its verticals? I think it boils down to Autodesk getting fed up by being Ùpicked onÝ by SolidWorks and the ODA. Carl Bass has made claims that if the ODA was a level playing field and all members swapped their file format toolkits freely, it would be an interesting option for them. However, the board members joined the ODA to get DWG libraries not to trade toolkits.

Watch this space.

www.opendesign.com

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