Whose Design Is It Anyway?

(Reminds you of a TV series with a very similar name?)

Who owns a circuit board design? At first glance, it is obvious who owns the pcb design. However, when using a contract design service, this is an important question. (This blog covers just the actual pcb design and the data created, not the schematic design or any patents and trade secrets.)

We have experienced situations where customers want to make changes to an existing board design. Some had to either use the original design firm. The original design firm would charge above-market prices. This is unnecessary cost. For others, the design data (or service) was unavailable. They now had to pay for re-engineering the board design. This is time-consuming and incurs unnecessary cost.

So the actual design databases and files need to be provided to the customer or end user. Please consider these reasons as to why:

  • The design service goes out of business due medical or legal issues.
  • The design service experiences catastrophic damage to the office or computer systems.
  • Your favorite designer, who knew exactly how you wanted things, retires.
  • Design service has become too expensive, quality has diminished, or lead-time has substantially increased.
  • The original design software is obsolete.
  • New design capabilities are required.
  • Management requires that all source data are securely stored in a company system.
  • An external design service is needed to augment internal capabilities.

Therefore, the pcb design belongs to the customer. The end-user should always be provided with the database/design files, fabrication and assembly data, and all other data and documentation as required and agreed upon. The design files should also include ASCII data in case the original design software is no longer suited for a particular design or becomes obsolete. (An exception is made for any existing patents, licenses or trade secrets, customization of existing vendor designs, or contractual requirements.)

Each printed circuit board is custom, designed to meet customer needs. It embodies the customers’ ideas, concepts, expectations and requirements. A design service can be an important resource to accomplish these tasks and protect the customer’s investment. At Quarter Century Design, we provide our customers with a complete data set, customized to their particular needs and requirements.

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