KB981: Was the NMRA DCC Standard based on the Lenz System? Isn't that a proprietary system?

This article was last updated on Oct. 11, 2010, 7:39 p.m. | Print Article | Leave Feedback

After considering the various alternatives available at the time, the NMRA's DCC Working Group found that the signaling techniques used by the Lenz System had what they were looking for and used a communications protocol that offered the greatest future growth potential. While the signaling techniques were based on the Lenz design, numerous improvements were made and a packet format that is much richer in features was ultimately adopted. While the Standard has its roots in the Lenz system, it is not based on any proprietary equipment or information.

If you look at the early NMRA DCC working group FAQ's it was stated that the NMRA had a letter from Lenz confirming that there was nothing in the Standards that infringed upon any Lenz copyrighted, patented or proprietary information. In fact, as of June 24, 1996, this version of "the facts" is still on the DCC working group's web site. However, the latest word from the former head of the DCC working group is that the letter the NMRA has from Lenz talks about the market outside Europe. "For items sold within Europe Lenz GmbH does claim patents. It is the belief of the NMRA that you can develop a system that conforms to the NMRA standards that does not infringe on the Lenz patents in Europe but we have no letter from Lenz stating this nor do we have any legal opinion to back up that belief." Because of this conflict, analog mode conversion is NOT part of the NMRA Standards or RP's for digital command control.

What about other command control systems that have been around for a long time but are not DCC compatible? Why were these manufacturers left out of the process? What will happen to individuals who have invested heavily in these older systems?

According to the NMRA, all known command control manufacturers were contacted and invited to participate in the standards process. There is a general feeling among non-digital system manufacturers and users that they were left out of the process and were harmed financially by the adoption of the DCC standard. Indeed we have seen at least one previously successful command control manufacturer go out of business since the adoption of the Standard. Individuals who are running these non-DCC systems are really in the same position they always have been in that they have proprietary systems that are tied to a single manufacturer. These customers will continue with their existing equipment and will continue to be supported by the manufacturer of that equipment. New advances will continue to be made in these systems so it is not fair to call them "dead-end" systems. May avid proponents of DCC tend to look down their noses at non-DCC systems and feel that these systems are somehow inferior to DCC. Digitrax feels that this is absolutely NOT TRUE. NMRA DCC compatible systems are just one of many command control system choices available to modelers. Every command control system has good and bad points. The bottom line is that if you are satisfied with the system you have in place and your manufacturer is supporting you, there is probably no need for you to change systems. Digitrax Command Control encompasses NMRA DCC and other command control formats as well to give our customers the best of all worlds!

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