Do Not Copy - what does it mean?
We are asked this question several times a week, so we thought we'd devote a page to it.
Many keys are emblazoned with Restricted, Registered, Do Not Copy, Patented, Design Registered, etc, so what does it all mean?
Firstly, it might not mean anything at all! Simply stamping an otherwise ordinary key with "Do Not Copy" does not mean anything. Your local hardware or shoe repairer will have the keyblanks and is quite within their rights to supply duplicates to anyone. And essentially this is the answer to the majority of questioners. "If your local key-cutter has the keyblank that slides into your lock then there is zero restriction... anyone will be able to get the key copied."
Proper protection comes when the manufacturer of the keyblanks and key barrels have lodged Intellectual Property (IP) rights. Usually this is not a patent as such, but a 'registered design'. A patent is for how something works, a registered design is for how something looks, and conversely a trademark is for a symbol or slogan. They are all different forms of intellectual property - IP.
Registered design keyblanks are protected from manufacture, distribution and cutting for a period of 10 years (previously 16 years). Theoretically, once this time has lapsed the keys can be copied at the local hardware shop, but in the real world that rarely happens because they simply cannot buy the specific keyblanks required, and probably never will be able to.
The original manufacturer and their re-sellers have binding contracts that surpass the IP protection, continuing the real-world protection. Other manufacturers could theoretically manufacture the keyblank, but to produce them economically requires heavy investment in tooling, which has to be amortised in the price of each keyblank. If there were only a few keyblanks then it might be worth it, but there are hundreds of them just in Australia, simply not viable.
So what about the original re-sellers that can purchase the keyblanks? Couldn't they supply unauthorised keys? Technically, yes, of course, and without a doubt this has happened before, but they are taking a huge risk. Firstly their keyblanks will have their business name embossed into the keyhead, so straight away they have given themselves away (and filing it away until it's illegible doesn't work because of metal distortion). Secondly, if they get caught, they will be in court and probably out of business. The biggest risk is employees that have lots to gain and little to lose, compared to their employer anyway. However, they still will lose their job and never work in the industry again, so the 'gain' has to pretty good to sway their moral judgement.
Of course all this IP stuff really only protects from mass-manufacture; any engineer with a milling machine and a spare day could produce a piece of metal to mimic a key, and the growing world of 3D printing only makes this easier. But then again RFID cards can be snooped and cloned much quicker and without requiring actual possession of the card.
Another advantage... Registered keys are cut to factory specifications every time. Instead of the local hardware shop tracing your existing worn key (on a $500 "duplicating" machine that hasn't been calibrated in years); your keys are produced on $10,000 computerised CNC machines to exact dimensions at minute tolerances. This means no wiggling and jiggling badly "duplicated" keys, which wears out cylinders and tumblers; and this in turn means the tumblers in registered locks can be far more accurate because they don't need allowance for the dodgy $500 tracing machines.