*Protecting Intellectual Property (IP):
Within the context of product design and development, the term Intellectual Property refers to the legally protectable ideas, concepts, names, designs, and processes associated with a new product. Intellectual Property can be one of the most valuable assets of firms. Unlike physical property, IP cannot be secured with lock and key to prevent its unwanted transfer. Therefore, legal mechanism have been developed to provide an incentive and reward to those who create new useful inventions, while at the same time encouraging the dissemination of information for the long-run benefit of society.
The protection of intellectual property by legal means has become a topic of general interest and international diplomatic negotiation. There are two conflicting motivations for this; first, creations of the mind are becoming more valuable in the information age and second, modern information technology makes it easy to transfer and copy such information. The intellectual property is protected by patents, copy rights, trademarks, and trade secrets. These entities fall within the area of property law, and as such they can be sold or leased just like other forms of property.
The functional features of a design can be protected with utility patents. A utility patent protects not only the specific embodiments of the idea shown in the patent application but functional equivalents as well. A well-written patent is the best protection for valuable idea. If an idea is worth patenting, it is worth hiring an experienced patent attorney to do the job well.
A different type of patent, the design patent, covers the ornamental aspects of a product such as its shape, configuration, or surface decoration. Design patents are easier to obtain than utility patents, and they are easier to enforce in court. If a competitive design has essentially the same overall appearance, then it is in violation of your patent. A design patent can have only one claim, which is a serious disadvantage, because it means that every unique aspect of a product's design requires a separate patent. This can be expensive.
A copyright has only limited usefulness in protecting product designs. This form of intellectual property is primarily intended to protect writing; however, it has become the dominant method of protecting software.
Trademarks are used to protect the names or symbols (logo) of products. A related form of protection is known as trade dress. This consists of distinctive features of a product like its color, texture, size, or configuration. Trademark and trade dress are intended to protect the public about the source of a product, i.e., to protect against cheap "knock-offs." Trademark protection is achieved by actual use of the trademark in the marketplace such that it achieves market recognition. Obviously, it is easier to defend against a competing trademark if it is registered. A registered trademark is issued for 20 years and can be renewed every 20 years as long as the product remains in the marketplace.
An innovation becomes a trade secret when a company prefers to forgo legal protection for the intellectual property. The reason for doing this is often a feeling that patents are difficult or costly to defend in the particular area of technology, or an unwillingness to let the public know what the company is doing. If the company takes active steps to protect the trade secret, then the courts will protect it as a form of intellectual property. Process innovations are more often protected by trade secrets than product innovations. Companies sometimes require nondisclosure agreements of their employees and may attempt to legally prevent an employee who leaves their employ with sensitive trade knowledge from working for a competitor in order to protect a trade secret.
* Design Aspect of Product Liability
Court decisions on product liability coupled with consumer safety legislation have placed greater responsibility on the designer for product safety. The following aspects of the design process should be emphasized to minimize potential problems from product liability:
- Take every precaution that there is strict adherence to industry and government standards. Conformance to standards does not relieve or protect the manufacturer from liability, but it certainly lessens the possibility of product defects.
- All products should be thoroughly tested before being released for sale. An attempt should be made to identify the possible ways a product can become unsafe, and tests should be devised to evaluate those aspects of design. When failure modes are discovered, the design should be modified to remove the potential cause of failure.
- The finest quality-control techniques available will not absolve the manufacturer of a product liability if, in fact, the product being marketed is defective. However, the strong emphasis on product liability has placed renewed emphasis on quality engineering as a way to limit the incidence of product liability.
- Make a careful study of the system relations between your product and upstream and downstream components. You are required to know how malfunctions should warn users of any hazards of foreseeable misuses based on these system relationships.
- Documentation of the design, testing, and quality activities can be very important. If there is a product recall, it is necessary to be able to pinpoint products by serial or lot number. If there is a product liability suit, the existence of good, complete records will help establish and atmosphere of competent behavior. Documentation is the single most important factor in winning or losing a product liability lawsuit.
- The design of warning labels and user instruction manuals should be an integral part of the design process. The appropriate symbols, color, and size and the precise wording of the label must be developed after joint meetings of the engineering, legal, marketing and manufacturing staffs. Use international warning symbols.
- Create a means of incorporating legal developments in product liability into the design decision process. It is particularly important to get legal advice from the product liability angle on new innovation and unfamiliar designs.
- There should be a formal design review before product is released for production.