To preface this article, I am not an attorney and the following information is intended to provide a general understanding of the terms higher and high security, key control, patented, restricted, proprietary and other terms used by lock manufacturers and locksmith distributors in regards to “protected” key blanks and keyway lock mechanisms for door lock hardware. Specific information provided in this article has been obtained either from the manufacturers, distributors or from their web sites.
Because I reside in the United States, I will talk about the U. S. patent laws. If you live in a border state, be aware that the U. S. patent laws may not provide protection in a different country. Many patented keyway lock mechanisms and keys have multiple patent protection covering different patented aspects and possible countries.
“Unauthorized key duplication remains the single-most violated security policy in today’s business. Those seeking to have a key copied usually meet with little or no resistance. In fact, nearly all keys can - and will - be duplicated with no questions asked. The stamping of ‘do not duplicate’ presents a challenge to most key cutters instead of a threat…” according to the ASSA Do Not Duplicate, Fact and Fiction about duplicating keys brochure.
As locksmiths, our customers may want or have a higher level of security than offered by conventional door lock mechanisms. For these reasons, it is important that your customers understand the different variations regarding key control and high levels of security.
Key control describes keyway lock mechanisms whose key blanks and locks are not available for purchase through regular locksmith and key cutter distribution channels. For locksmiths, providing a customer with door lock key control requires purchasing keyway lock mechanisms and key blanks with some type of contractual agreement that limits the availability with either a locksmith distributor or lock manufacturer.
Patent protection for just about all keyway lock mechanisms includes key control that provides protection from unauthorized key duplication. Part of the cost of these patented keyway lock mechanisms is enforcement. “Medeco aggressively acts to protect the security of the consumer by enforcing the legal rights provided by these patents,”according to the Medeco Products catalog 2009.
For this article, I will interchangeably use the terms key blanks, keys, locks and keyway lock mechanisms.
For many locksmiths, key control equals higher security locks. Key control means when you sell a company higher security locks and six keys for their employees, there will only be six keys unless the owner wants to purchase more through the locksmith who sold the locks. No unauthorized duplication because the key blanks are not available to everyone.
Patent protection, restricted and proprietary are relatively easily definable terms. However, each lock manufacturer and locksmith distributor can have its own specific interpretation.
Patented key blanks are legally restricted to those individuals and companies that either own the patent or have made contractual agreements with the companies controlling the patent. Proprietary and restricted key blanks and keyway lock mechanisms may or may not be patent protected.
A United States patent is a set of rights exclusive to the inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for a public disclosure of an invention. The patent generally permits its owner to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention for a period of time from the date of patent application filing. It is the responsibility of the patent holder to protect their patent rights.
There are basically three different types of United States Patents - Utility Patent, Design Patent and Plant Patent. We will concentrate on Design and Utility Patents in regards to lock mechanisms, key blanks and related.