One of the more intriguing stories this week comes from Roland who just filed for patents to protect designs of the iconic TR-808 and the TB-303 in Germany. Now this may seem rather insignificant, but these pieces of hardware have become the targets of companies who clone the designs and sell them at a fraction of a cost. The most notable example is Behringer, who has been making synth and drum machine clones for decades. Behringer is based in Germany, and this move is largely seen as a move to try and stop Behringer from releasing its upcoming TR-808 clone that some are hailing as a near perfect copy. It will sell for about $300, which is much less than what it originally sold for.
As CDM reports, a poster on the Sequencer.de forum uncovered the filings at the website for DPMA, Germany’s patent and trademark office. The patent covers the look and design of the 303 and 808, covering its layout and color scheme. It goes so far as to cover everything like synthesizers, music software, t-shirts, mobile phone cases, mouse pads and a whole lot more you could think of printing or using the likeness of with the 303 or 808 design on.
CDM also notes that Roland has open and pending patents for the 808 and 909 in the United States to prevent similar clones and design usage from other companies.
It isn’t entirely clear why Roland waited this long to patent their products around the world. We asked Roland for comment a few days ago and never heard back. The interest in analog hardware is at an all time high and cloning has followed it. Some of the clones are based on expired patents, but others seem to find a grey area of legality where there isn't patent protection or just change the design enough to avoid lawsuits. There is a mythical quality to the original 808s, 909s and 303s. What they mean to music is too much and with their scarcity, comes demand. There have been movies, sneakers and even whisky based on the 808.
Roland has every right to protect their intellectual property and they have gone after other companies in the past when they can. This seems like a move to try and stop some of the best clones we have seen yet, but all some of these companies have to do is just adjust designs slightly and come to market a year or two later. Unless Roland is willing to make cheaper models that capture the essence of the initial products had, which the TR-8, TR-08, the TR-8S seemingly haven’t been able to for consumers, then there will always been more clones. That or they need to get better at branding those new products in more markets as the heir to the original.
Either way, the war between Roland and their cloners seem to be just warming up.