An ethical supplier question

Aren here,

For those that don’t know I worked at VEX as an intern and then 3 years as a Mechanical Engineer, largely on VEXpro items.
I did the initial testing for and worked with Grant Cox on that educational tool.

I do not work for VEX anymore, and I do not speak for them. I simply have friends still there and wish nothing but the best for them.

A product announcement today has just left me a bit disgruntled and disappointed in some people I had more respect for.

It appears there is a case of this: (The VEX team is on the left)

(Yes, I’ve already seen the modified versions of this comic)

I am the individual who worked with RC of West Coast Products, and several motor vendors, to perform testing and modification of specs and determining features we wanted for a 700 case series motor.
The motor we ended up with is not a catalog item, it is a custom setup that was designed to match the specifications VEX wanted.
This cycle included several rounds of receiving motor samples and testing them, providing feedback and repeating. This is time VEX invested to create a worthwhile product for the FRC community.
(also burnt motors smell bad)

So the question is, is it okay to go to a supplier and ask for the EXACT same item that they worked with a different company on? (If I remember correctly an agreement was in place with said company for exclusivity of said design, but cannot comment further on that in my current situation not at VEX)

The next question is, if this is what you did, why not just call it what it is? Why re-brand it as your own when it’s not?
Disingenuous seems to be a good word here.

If any party here knows more and wants to shed some light for me feel free to PM me.


Is this referring to Redline? If so, I think it’s a way of competing by providing a similar product to something available on the market, to get people to buy related products. It is worth noting that AndyMark doesn’t appear to be implementing Microsoft’s Embrace, extend, and extinguish strategy by making their gearboxes work only with Redline or even by undercutting Vex on the price. While it is a deliberate copy of a 775pro, I would guess that it’s probably exactly the same thing, since to my understanding most FRC motors are just rebrands of various industrial and drill motors from China in the first place.

They are the same exact motor, but one has a red sleeve instead. I know enough people in the loop to know this.


Recommend reading the OP more closely. Aren explained that the Vex offering was NOT a rebrand of a common industrial motor, but instead was a semi?-custom product designed and built specifically for the FRC market.

When you do that sort of development, it’s done within the framework of a contract. The contract governs everybody’s rights to the development and is negotiated in great detail. These are sophisticated players who each have good counsel to represent their interests. So, when they negotiate, they know all the possibilities that could happen and agree to take the risk that those thing will happen.

So, as long as everybody is abiding by those agreements, then I don’t see anything unethical here. This is different than, say, your cell phone contract where the provider has an army of lawyers and the guy signing the contract in the store doesn’t really understand what he’s agreeing to.

In fact (without any inside knowledge) that appears to be exactly what happened here. When you do that sort of co-development, you will often have an exclusivity period – “for X years, you won’t sell this to anybody else in this market.” Seems plausible that the exclusivity period just ran out. And, that leads to another common term – “even after the exclusivity period, you won’t sell the identical product to anybody else in the market; any copy has to be immediately distinguishable.” So, you get a motor with a red casing.

(I’m a corporate lawyer, but not to anybody involved there. Don’t ask what a lawyer is doing mentoring a robotics team.)

Interpreting the game manual. :rolleyes:

I would like to hear AndyMark detail how they developed the RedLine motor. These questions have not been answered:


Can I ask how this is different than a vendor selling a CIM? The co-development was done by a different vendor and the manufacturer. The vendor just has the manufacturer modify it to their needs (laser etching, stickers, etc.).

Is the difference just the proximity in market space of the two suppliers?

Edit: Question was answered. Totally different situations.

The CIM is sourced from another manufacturer and was not specifically developed by one of the suppliers in question.

I’m pretty sure the issue is that AndyMark rebranded the 775pro as the Redline. People were expecting an entirely different motor, not a clone of an already existing one.

I’m a little perplexed myself, why go through the bother with the Redline when they could have just carried the 775pro?

I was just saying it’s generally the same case though right. Supplier A works with motor manufacturers to develop motor. Supplier B goes straight to manufacturer and gets a rebranded version of the same.

Edit: Not the same at all.

Profits man.

CIMs are made by the same manufacturer, you can order one. It’s any of these CCL part #s

From the CIM motor datasheet:

Typical Application: Massager, Vibrator,…

As soon as something goes public it’s fair game. The only thing that protects public technology are patents. If there is no patent infringement, there is no issue.

Reverse engineering is very real and completely legal if there are no patent infringements.

I don’t think anyone questioned the legality. Just the ethics.

I understand your feelings Aren (I’ve been there), and it all comes down to the exclusivity contract. It’s up to VEX to defend themselves if that’s the case.

My company routinely sees this same sort of thing - right down to the exterior styling of a vehicle. HAD Vex signed some sort of exclusivity contract, then Andy Mark could very easily have reverse engineered the product, modified enough details to slide it by the legal folks, then had the same company manufacture it for them.

In this case, we’ll know soon enough if they violated some contract that Vex holds but I’d be very surprised. I’ve always been impressed with Andymark and see no reason to think badly of them for this before all the facts come out. On the surface this appears to be pretty standard rebadging that happens all the time.

For additional reference, it is my current understanding that FIRST owns the design rights to the CIM motor, and licenses them to distributors to purchase from CCL.


Legally… smarter people than me have already posted.

Ethically… Coopertition doesn’t necessarily extend to the business world… Business is a cut-throat game, and the market for FRC suppliers is relatively small, and highly competitive. I personally don’t take issue with AndyMark’s apparent rebranding of the 775pro motor. Frankly, I’m surprised we don’t see more situations like this.

On a side note, from a business perspective, I think AndyMark’s move to sell their own version of the 775pro was really smart. It’s just such a perfect product and is only going to get more popular as time goes on. I’m a strong believer that 775 motors will eventually supplant the Cim motor as the drivetrain motor of choice for many teams.

I agree this is common in global industry, but I always believed the small niche market of FRC had its own, unspoken rules. Granted I’m not a supplier for the FRC market, but it seems like most of the time the focus has been on creating better products for teams, and there seems to have been an unspoken rule (up until now) that copying for the sake of taking part of a market share doesn’t benefit the community as a whole, and while the business world isn’t always about doing what’s best for the community, FRC always seemed a little different in that regard. There have been occasions where FRC Supplier A released a product similar to FRC Supplier B, but they’ve always been different and unique in a way that gave teams more options or improved upon designs rather than the functionally same product but with a minor aesthetic change.

It’s an extreme example, but following the logic of your post it would mean that it is entirely okay for other suppliers to directly copy AM products and sell them at a lower price, or with guarantees for faster shipping to areas far from Indiana. I could open up my own companies in Canada and the West Coast (far locations from Indiana), and offer to sell near exact replicas of any AM part available for less shipping and a lower price. Sure some people would be mad at me, but why would I care? I just took the market for AM products in western United States, Canada, and probably Mexico. I didn’t offer a new product, just the same products under a new name and slightly different aesthetics, from a new location. Besides, it’s just good business.* Of course I don’t think this is an ethical thing to do, but if these are the rules everyone wants to play by, then by all means, it’s definitely an option.

My point is, in the past it’s been about providing teams with more options, but this just looks like it’s about taking market share with the same product. I hope I’m wrong. You’re right that it’s good business, but sometimes good business doesn’t contribute to the public good, and FRC is a competition where the public good comes first.

*I would never actually do this - AndrewMark just doesn’t have the same ring to it.