Who Really Owns the Product Design?

You have a new product that requires a wire form, metal fabrication or welded wire component.  You start by researching manufacturers that will be able to assist you in producing the component for your project. After performing a few web searches, looking at online directories and maybe even contacting some companies you have done business with before for recommendations, you contact a contract manufacturer (job shop) that specializes in precision wire fabrication.

After discussing your needs with the contract manufacturer - let's call them Company ABC, you send them a drawing or print to review in order to get feedback and a quotation.  The contract manufacturer may make some design recommendations to allow the part to be made more cost effectively or to ensure a stronger or more consistent part.  They might even provide you with a drawing showing the proposed changes.

This is all business as usual for most contract manufacturers.  Not everyone is knowledgeable about designing components using steel or stainless steel wire.  An experienced wire fabricatorcan provide you with input on the integrity of your design and whether or not the part can be manufactured to exacting, repeatable tolerances.

You decide to proceed with the amended design and place an order for prototypes, samples or production parts.  Later on, you review the project with another contract manufacturer and you learn that Company ABC has patented or copywrighted your original design and concept!

Wait!  This was your part and you paid Company ABC to manufacture the parts for you!  How did your design suddenly become the property of someone else?

There are ways to prevent this problem.

First, if you have an original design, project or product, ask your contract manufacturer to sign a non-disclosure form which contains information regarding the rights and ownership of your proprietary design or product.  Review your expectations.  Review your contract manufacturers Terms and Conditions.

Second, if the contract manufacturer makes design suggestions/amendments that will be incorporated into your project, have your print updated to reflecf these revisions.

Third, if the contract manufacturer is providing product design work for you, pay them for it.  What they are providing is of value and there is a cost associated with an engineer/designer making a drawing, whether it is on paper or in an electronic format.  The amount of engineering input provided will impact the cost.  If you are paying for the design, you would/should own the design.

An honest, upfront discussion with your contract manufacturer will eliminate many headaches down the road.  Most contract manufacturers are not in the business of hijacking customer's designs.  They hope that the engineering/design input that they provide to the customer during the development phase results in a production order.  Most contract manufacturers are in the business of manufacturing, they don't want to be product engineers.

For more information about Acme Wire Products' capabilities in precision wire fabrication, call us at 1-800-723-7015 or send an email to mfitz@acmewire.com.