Intellectual property is the most important asset of a manufacturer and, if leaked to a competitor, can lead to lost market exclusivity and competitive advantage. Today, IP contained in product concept designs is increasingly at risk, along with the revenue and corporate know-how it represents. The threat to product IP has increased as a result of globally distributed design teams that design products collaboratively, and ironically, by the approaches required to enable truly distributed design and manufacturing networks.
A lack of processes and procedures in place to protect IP and safeguard design concepts during development, can lead to lost IP, which in turn results in lost sales, product commoditization, and lower profit margins. Manufacturers must implement organizational structures, business processes, and technologies that support “IP friendly” collaboration, document IP and enable legal protection, and safeguard product data, including enhancing IT security and digital rights management.
Protecting Product Concepts
Concept designs are captured and managed differently at organizations. In a recent study entitled, Trends in Concept Design, conducted by PTC, only 37% of the participants responded that their company utilized some type of centralized management system to capture and manage design concepts. Another 34% indicated that their companies “strictly manage all concept designs, including revisions, in a centralized process.” Another 22% of respondents said that each person on the development team stores concept designs on his or her own computers, indicating that no centralized management system was in place.
Engineering notebooks are commonly used to capture proposed designs during the concept phase of development. In the PTC survey, the largest percentage of respondents (66%) said that some team members use engineering notebooks during the concept stage. Who owns the information contained in those notebooks? Over 59% of respondents believed the company owned the notebooks and the information contained within, however, another 41% of respondents either didn’t know who owned the notebooks (22%) or believed that the individual owned the data captured in the notebook (19%).
Despite advancements in and increased deployment of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems and knowledge management systems, many manufacturers still use informal tools and processes, such as engineering notebooks, to communicate and manage key product data, which can inhibit collaboration and elevate IP risk.
Without established procedures in place to safeguard the information contained in these notebooks, when employees leave a company, valuable and proprietary data leaves right along with them. Though 67% of respondents indicated that they didn’t think the notebook would be taken upon an employee’s departure, another 33% either “didn’t know” or thought it would be taken.
So how is this information safeguarded? At many companies, there are no established procedures to protect this valuable corporate product data. In the survey, only 16% of respondents indicated that the data captured in these engineering notebooks is captured electronically in the company’s systems. Nearly 70% of respondents said that there was no such procedure in place to capture this data electronically in corporate systems.
A strong strategic approach to IP and concept design management must span from product conception to market release. Companies must implement a systematic approach to safeguarding emerging design concepts and the potential IP they hold in order to reduce the risk of IP theft or loss. Integrating IP management into R&D through product development seamlessly provides opportunities to improve IP protection that can reduce a manufacturer’s risk and lower costs.
Image by Roo Reynolds