Protecting Your IP
Any time you are working through the development process and you wish to have intellectual property protection it is important to understand the relationship with your contract engineer. There are many ways engineering contracts can be established and some are more advantageous than others based on your business model and how you want to integrate with your engineering company. There are different levels of intellectual ownership: source files, manufacturing files, and component design. Often these levels of ownership dictate the engineering rate.
Use of Design libraries
Design libraries are collections of work created by the engineer for future use. These libraries often include common code functions such as establishing Bluetooth communication etc. since the engineer built these libraries prior to the start of your project he owns 100% of the code in his libraries. In your project they can utilize one of the pre-programmed libraries to make the project go faster. Now when it comes to ownership of that library the consulting engineer is not likely going to release ownership of their personal design library. So that means if you want 100% ownership of all the code the engineer is going to have to create everything from scratch, and as a result the project will cost more. This can be a tricky scenario to migrate around as most individuals do not understand that to be efficient means contract engineers use many pre-configured tools. Now relating to the core functionality of the application the client will still maintain all rights and ownership of that section of the code. Similar scenarios can be played out with electronic design. Let’s say you’re be building a single board computer that uses a standard power supply circuit. The engineer is not going to redesign the power supply circuit for your application when he has a proven design in his library. Essentially you can think of this relationship as the engineers are providing a right of library usage for your project but you do not own that small section of design. Your intellectual property should be centered around the function and use of the product rather than the gritty details of the product.
Engineering Source Files
There are many types of agreements that a client and engineering consultant can come to, but is very important to understand the fine print of the contracts. In more than one occasion we have had clients come to us from another engineering company thinking that they have all the files and ownership of all the files for the project. Once we start to get involved we realize that the source files are not included in the original document packets and request copy of these new these files. When this happens the old engineering firm likely knows that the client has moved to a new source and is reluctant to give you the source files. But wait, you paid for the design so you should get everything needed to move to a new engineering group. Well, that depends on how your contract was originally established. The engineering group in an effort to lock you into their service can offer you a contract that includes all documentation required for manufacturing this would include 3-D step files, Gerber files, drawing PDFs, etc. what they don’t tell you is that those files are not editable. So you cannot make simple revisions without that engineering groups support. This is more common when engineering groups are trying to also lock a client into a manufacturing agreement. So what they do is offer discounted engineering services and they still provide you with everything you need to manufacture elsewhere but they make it really hard to migrate.
It’s important to realize with any business venture that there are many ways to draft a contract, and an understanding of these contracts is critical when dealing with engineering firms. If you plan on that company as being a strategic partner for your business in the long term then sharing ownership for discount rates might be a good play, however we often know that these type of business arrangements can fall through leaving the client in a difficult position. When you’re talking with your engineering companies make sure to ask them about ownership of manufacturing files and of source files.