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NMRA enlisting manufacturer help in DCC challenge

The National Model Railroad Association is heading an effort to stem legal action it views as detrimental to the development of digital command control and model railroading in general. The organization is soliciting manufacturers for financial support in the matter.

In a letter sent to model railroad manufacturers in late March from NMRA General Counsel Robert Amsler Jr., the organization explains recent legal action taken by Real Rail Effects Inc., alleging patent infringement regarding DCC and sound. Real Rail, in August 2006, filed a single suit in a Florida court against QS Industries Inc., American Hobby Distributors (QSI Solutions) and Atlas Model Railroad Company Inc., alleging infringement on a patent for a device described as a "sound recording and reproduction system for model train using integrated digital command control," and has sent letters to a number of others saying they are also infringing on the patent.

According to court documents, mediation has been ordered between the three defendants and Real Rail. If they cannot come to terms by October 28, 2007, the case will go to trial in February 2008.

For the NMRA's part, it believes if Real Rails is able to sue the manufacturers, "... the lawsuits will chill the hobby and possibly retard innovation." Further, "Any adverse impact on the manufacturers will only harm the modelers too," the letter says.

The organization will challenge Real Rail Effects' patent by seeking re-examination by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Amsler says the description language in the patent filing "is so broad - almost like they wanted to corner the DCC and sound market."

The NMRA has retained attorney Daniel G. Radler, who specializes in patent law. The letter states the challenge will cost approximately $50,000, hence the call to the manufacturers for financial support.

"We've already gotten some substantial contributions from manufacturers," Amsler said.

According to the letter, the legal challenge will be based on the NMRA's belief the patent was "improvidently granted." "There is prior art, as well as information submitted by Real Rail Effects, Inc. when it applied for the patent, that the patent examiner did not consider," the letter states. "The entire DCC sound industry will be adversely affected by lawsuits and threatened action if this patent is not successfully challenged."

The NMRA is playing an organizational role, not only seeking funding from the manufacturers, but also help in planning the challenge and getting the necessary evidence.

"We'll proceed as soon as we can on this. We have to have all the evidence first, Amsler said. He added the research process had already started. - Hal Miller, editor, Model Retailer

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