Pat Dillon

Customizing tractors and other farm equipment is not a new idea, infact with some farm operators it is as common as free seed corn caps. I have a Farmall C with a “reverse kit” installed so you face the traditional “rear” of the tractor. Then, a forklift mast was installed. International Harvester company didn’t do that, a short line manufacturer saw a need and met it. I remember my Dad taking the frame of a Massey Harris pull type 72 combine and making into a trailer to haul a D4 Bulldozer and taken the grain head and fabricating a grain cleaner from it.

Now, the tinkering and tweaking extends to the electronic components of the equipment. Chips are available to deregulate horsepower controls, wiring harnesses and programs can be uploaded to equipment in an attempt to make on manufacture’s electronics “talk” to another. The manufactures install Technology Protection Measures or TPM to prevent this tinkering. This reminds me of the manufactures making their hydraulic systems incompatible with one another, which you can still find traces of with Pioneer adaptors on IH tractors.

Over the last twenty years manufacturers have used the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act to assert that buyers have permission (aka a license) to use software that in the equipment sold and that permission doesn’t include the right to tinker with the software. This month U.S. Copyright Office is supposed to rule to clarify how much of piece of equipment’s soft ware you can modify. As it stands, the manufacturers have the law on their side and 120 years of protection from modification of the software. From the on board navigation system in your new SUV to the GPS and the electrical harness of your tractor, this ruling will have a broad impact. However, just like the Waters of the United States rule, the “clarification” is likely going to mean more money for patent lawyers and more gray areas. And gray areas slow innovation and new ideas as lawyers file briefs and motions.

GM, Deere, and others are claiming that without the rules being interpreted their way, they would suffer economic loss through pirating of hard work and research they put into the product, as well increased risk of responsibly in the event of an accident, increased emissions, or poor performance. But 120 years of protection seems along time. Mr