The RFP evaluation process is designed to clarify many aspects of potential partnerships and deliverables – the quality of the vendor, the scope of the project, and the outcomes on which success will be measured. As important as the end product is, the knowledge that goes into it, from the backend data, to the code, to the design is vital to have. When selecting an engineering or manufacturing partner, the issue of intellectual property – yours and theirs – must be addressed.
Protecting your own IP
A company’s intellectual property is what’s used to drive revenue, provide a competitive edge, and attract customers. When you select and partner with a vendor, that vendor may have to access your IP in order to fulfill the deliverables.
This IP may include:
- Product concepts
- Business and marketing plans
- Financial data
- Names of customers and other vendors
- Engineering and manufacturing designs and processes Logos and marketing materials
- Unique computer code and database designs Business strategies and methodologies
Before embarking on a partnership, it’s imperative to inventory all your intellectual property and ensure that there are standards in place to regulate your vendors’ access, disclosure, and use of materials both during and after the project is completed. Not having these standards in place can jeopardize your company and your customers’ trust.
Protecting the deliverables
At the same time, another component of IP that needs to be protected involves the project deliverables. For example, by law, if an independent contractor develops software for your company, that contractor automatically holds the copyright to that software. Thus, your company could end up paying for software that you do not own, preventing you from being able to replicate, sell, or alter it for other purposes.
To protect your IP, you can add provisions to the contract that stipulate that the work was done by hire of your company, and thus ensuring your company is the rightful owners of the completed software and all the source code that was used in the project, as well as schematics, bills of materials, PCB design, fabrication, Gerber files, mechanical drawings, software source code, and the software executable.
Putting it in writing
Taking stock of your IP and its vulnerability in the hands of an engineering and manufacturing partner can help your company preserve a valuable asset. The exercise forces companies to consider issues of data access, restrictions, confidentiality, and ownership. It also sheds light on the need for work-for-hire agreements and copyright and trademark registrations. The issue of IP ownership and protection is just one of the key performance indicators that are useful in selecting an engineering or manufacturing partner who can deliver project success.