TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: Re. Spurious secrecy? From:Win Day <winday -at- IDIRECT -dot- COM> Date:Thu, 28 Mar 1996 07:11:27 -0500
At 03:51 PM 3/27/96 -0600, Geoff Hart wrote:
> The discussion of "secrecy" in the context of documentation
> interests me. If the information must remain secret, why
> release it in the first place? User manuals strike me as
> pretty much useless without the product they describe, and
> if someone buys the product, they'll get the dox anyway.
> Indeed, the oldest form of industrial espionage is to buy
> the opponent's product and reverse-engineer it.
> Where does the problem lie? Are we worried that someone
My client successfully sued a competitor late in 1995 for copyright
infringement, because some docs were where they shouldn't be. Some background:
My client (a process control engineering firm) designs, installs, and
maintains process control systems for refineries and chemical plants. My
client is frequently not the only process control company at a particular
site at a given time. Refineries are big places, with lots of units and
systems provided by different control firms.
One of my client's clients left our manuals out where a competitor could get
to them, in spite of secrecy agreements and a warning inside each manual not
to show the information to third parties without express written consent.
The refinery operators weren't careful about putting things away when other
control firms were around.
The other control firm copied the manual. The reference section of the
manual contained enough information for this competitor to engineer a
competing product. Up to that point, this product had NO competitors.
The competitor then offered the competing product to the refinery, at a
considerably lower price (it's not really the price of the product that's so
prohibitive, it's the price of the support engineering). The competitor was
just dumb enough to keep the interface so similar that the refinery realized
what had happened, and informed my client. A lawsuit followed.
And a successful lawsuit it was, too. The monetary penalty was high enough
to force the competitor into bankruptcy.
Email: winday -at- idirect -dot- com