I have been reading a design guide by TI which provides full schematics for their reference design seen Here.

There is copyright stamped all over this document as seen below. I don't plan on using their design but it made me think, what if I wanted to use their design? With company's providing reference designs, presumably, they want me to use it and buy their product. I'm confused on the usability/copyright of using manufacturer reference designs, are we allowed to and what are we not allowed to use? enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ What did TI say when you asked them...... \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Jun 1 '18 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Reference designs are intended to be used as a base for your designs. It's just that you can't copy and paste this schematic elsewhere without mentioning it's source / consent from the right owner. \$\endgroup\$ – Eugene Sh. Jun 1 '18 at 13:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have not asked them. They provide a disclaimer at the bottom of the document stating ' this is only the help designers' but does not mention whether you can use it or not. But my question is mire aimed at reference designs in general, not just TI. \$\endgroup\$ – user160063 Jun 1 '18 at 13:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reference_design : Reference design refers to a technical blueprint of a system that is intended for others to copy. \$\endgroup\$ – Eugene Sh. Jun 1 '18 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ti wants you to buy their components, and they encourage you to do so by providing design support. \$\endgroup\$ – lucas92 Jun 1 '18 at 14:30

Your main confusion seems to be between copying a schematic and a design. Only the schematic is and can be copyrighted. It's only the drawing itself that is copyrighted. You can't, for example, copy the schematic of the reference design into a book of schematics and sell the book.

However, there is no restriction in the document of the idea behind the drawing. Ideas can't be copyrighted. They can be patented, but that's different from the copyright you asked about. Since the intent of TI in providing a reference design is for their customers to use it, it would be very strange if TI patented the design and then prevent you from using it. They want you to use their IC in a circuit, and many circuits will have significant similarities with the reference design.

Put another way, TI is giving their idea of how to use this chip freely, but not that specific drawing describing the idea. You are free to create your own drawings that describe the same or similar ideas.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah my thoughts exactly. Presumably your end use is not a picture in which case it is a copyright violation of sorts. \$\endgroup\$ – joojaa Jun 1 '18 at 15:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ “Since the intent of TI in providing a reference design is for their customers to use it, it would be very strange if TI patented the design and then prevent you from using it.“ that's not exactly correct, they could for example license the design for use with their ics if it were patented. \$\endgroup\$ – DonQuiKong Jun 2 '18 at 12:40

All manufacturers provide explicit license information regarding reference designs and other resources (datasheets, app notes, ...).

For TI, in particular, it is in this document. It starts by saying:

Texas Instruments Incorporated (‘TI”) technical, application or other design advice, services or information, including, but not limited to, reference designs and materials relating to evaluation modules, (collectively, “TI Resources”) are intended to assist designers who are developing applications that incorporate TI products [...]

Then, later:

You are authorized to use, copy and modify any individual TI Resource [...]

But actually, this document is mostly a disclaimer from TI. It quickly says you can use the resources, and goes into extended lengths of explaining that you should not sue TI for whatever reason you might think of...

So, as Eugene said, the copyright you saw only applies to the resource document itself, not to the information given in the resource document.

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Reference designs are intended to be copied and the manufacturer provides them with this intention.

It's not a substitute for reading the datasheet thoroughly, but it's also a pretty good way to ensure you're not too far off base with a complex design. In some cases you may even want to copy layout, for example for DDR memory to processor connections.

However, there is usually a disclaimer that indicates in legalese that you may be infringing someone else's patent by using the circuit and they take no responsibility for that.

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