“Cloning” is one of those buzzwords that have crept into our daily language in this new age of technology. More often than not, you hear the term used interchangeably with duplication, but in reality, a clone is much more than a simple duplicate. In the biological world, clones are identical...
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As you might imagine, cloning encrypted keys makes everything that came before them look easy. This also helps to explain why we are now in the fourth or fifth generation of cloning devices. It also explains why so many new cloning devices either rely on an Internet connection or offer periodic updates for their software via the Internet.
No automotive manufacturer actually wants their transponder keys to be cloned. They have spent, and continue to spend, a great deal of money trying to prevent cloning, or make to it so difficult that it is not practical to clone their keys.
The legal issues involved in cloning are as complicated as the technology mainly to prevent cloning. Naturally, the transponders themselves are patented, and the software that allows them to operate is copyrighted. But many locksmiths don’t seem to understand who owns these patents and copyrights. To illustrate this, let’s look at the Texas Instruments encrypted transponder that is used in the STRATTEC 599114 key blanks.
Since this transponder is manufactured by Texas Instruments (TI), most assume that TI holds the patents and copyrights. That is not exactly true. While TI designed and developed this transponder, the work was actually done for the Ford Motor Corp. Ford owns most of the patents and copyrights that apply to this particular transponder. Texas Instruments manufactures the transponder exclusively for Ford, and Ford controls the distribution of the transponders. In turn, Ford licensed STRATTEC as the sole manufacturer of key blanks that contained that transponder.
Since cloning is not encouraged by the manufacturers, most of the research and development associated with developing cloning technology boils down to finding new and better ways to get around the patents and copyrights. This work falls into two main categories – finding a way to mimic the software without violating copyrights and developing new transponders and transponder-like devices that don’t directly violate any patents.
One of the most obvious ways to clone a transponder without violating patents is to clone the functions of the transponder onto a device that is not technically a transponder but will perform the same function as the transponder. This is where the “Electronic Keys” (EK Keys) come in. These EK keys use a printed circuit much like those used in vehicle remotes to emulate the functions of the transponders that are protected by patents, without actually violating the patents. In most cases, the EK keys provide a great alternative to expensive dealer-only keys, but they tend to be slightly larger, require a battery, and are generally more prone to damage than the keys they replace. EK Keys, like remotes, generally don’t like to be dropped in the water, get stepped on, or left in extremely hot or cold places.
Another way to get around some patents is provided by the transponder manufacturers themselves. Naturally they want to sell as many transponders as possible, so in some cases transponders that could not be sold legally to key manufacturers are sold in other industries, such as the shipping and veterinary industries. The shipping industry uses transponders to track shipping containers, pallets, and individual cartons of high value merchandise. The veterinary industry uses transponders for tagging and tracking cattle and other livestock as well as for microchipping pets. (My two dogs and my cat all have Texas Instruments glass cylinder transponders very similar to the ones used in the early Ford keys embedded between their shoulders.)
Many of the transponders used in other industries are designed to be “rewritten” many times so that the user can store individualized information on the transponders. Enterprising souls in the locksmith world have made it their business to locate readily available rewritable transponders that can be used as substitutes for those used in OEM transponder keys. Those transponders are then used in clonable keys.
Most transponders are manufactured in China and many Chinese industries are legendary for simply ignoring patents and copyrights. Millions of transponders coming out of China are virtual clones of patented transponders. Some are changed just enough to skirt around the patents and also provide the ability for the transponder to be rewritten. Many of these chips find their way into clonable keys.
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