updated 11/16/2003 11:35:09 AM ET 2003-11-16T16:35:09

In a closely watched technology lawsuit, a federal judge has ruled that a garage-door opener designed as a replacement for a model made by a rival manufacturer does not violate the nation’s digital copyright law. “Consumers have a reasonable expectation that they can replace the original product with a competing universal product without violating federal law,” Judge Rebecca M. Pallmeyer said.

PALLMEYER’S 10-PAGE OPINION came Thursday in a lawsuit filed by Chamberlain Group Inc., with offices in suburban Elmhurst, Ill., against Skylink Technologies Inc., of Mississauga, Ontario.

Chamberlain claimed Skylink garage-door openers that can interact with Chamberlain’s digital security technology violated the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The dispute has been closely watched because there have been few court decisions to date that outline the limits of protections the digital copyright law affords manufacturers, said Gwen Hinze, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“This is one of the first cases that has actually looked at the language of authority” given to the manufacturer by the law to prevent consumers from using a so-called aftermarket product, she said.

Andrea B. Greene, attorney for privately held Skylink, said a ruling in favor of Chamberlain “would have had serious consequences for all kinds of consumer products.”

“This was an attempt to expand the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to where it had never gone before,” she said. She called the ruling “very good news for consumers.” She said she did not know if Chamberlain would appeal.

Chamberlain attorney Karl R. Fink did not return a message left at his office.

Pallmeyer likened garage-door openers to television remote controls.

“Consumers of both products might have to replace them at some point due to damage or loss, and may program them to work with other devices manufactured by different companies,” she said.

Attorneys said the other federal court major case being watched for clues as to the limits of the digital copyright law is an effort by Lexmark International Inc. of Lexington, Ky., to bar Static Control Components Inc. of Sanford, N.C., from selling computer chips that match remanufactured toner cartridges to Lexmark International printers.

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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