Once you are finished with a complex PCB design, you obviously want the successful product to stay on the market for years. This way you will be able to milk it in the way it’s expected. However, some manufacturers of electronics may attempt to counterfeit your boards to run their products, bypassing purchasing directly from you.
Let’s review ways to protect your PCB design from dishonest PCB manufacturers that may attempt stealing your design in one or another way.
A non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is the way of legal protection of your PCB design. It takes effect regardless of whether a contractor rapid-prototyped the design for your project or you brought your own design for manufacture.
What would be the consequences if a contractor attempted to copy the design anyway? It would not be possible for them to legalize their components. You also may sue them, and this way, no copied components will be allowed to enter the market. You’d also get compensation.
Gerbers are vector graphic files PCB blanks are made according to which. You may separate the manufacturing of your PCBs by giving Gerbers to one firm only. They will prepare and ship blanks to the second manufacturer.
The second firm must be given a bill of materials (BOM), i.e., the list of items (components) to create a product. The second company will be assembling your PCBs this way. So, both manufacturers do not have complete info about your PCB design and cannot speculate on its usage.
The thing is that a company specializing in fabricating PCBs as per given Gerbers, BOMs, etc, simply is not capable of copying your design. They do not have appropriate equipment allowing DIY design PCBs on the industrial level. They do not have respective specialists either.
It’s not like you need to pick a manufacturing-focused firm in the first place. These just cannot fix your PCB design if something goes wrong. But outsourcing a portion of PCB production to a manufacturer without a design department is the right call.
Most of PCB manufacturers, including PadPCB, never risk their contracts. The brand image does not worth dubious financial profit from copying and releasing your PCBs as the product of themselves.
The only ones who may consider stealing the design are the half-legal PCB shops that both rapidly prototype and fabricate PCBs at low costs. They have design departments that may attempt to copy successful products or steal the designs of their clients and saturate the market of cheap electronics with it.
Watch closely to whom you trust your intellectual property. Read reviews about a chosen provider and pay attention to the level of their customer support as a notable indicator of trustworthiness.
It’s hardly possible to legally enter the market if a product is not legally registered. But this is possible only if it is approved to be an original product, i.e., Intellectual property (IP) was not stolen.
Ways here are copyright mark – protection of digital image (file) of your PCB design, trademark – protection of your PCBs themselves, and patent – protection of invention of your PCB design. Having each of those increases the chances that governmental organizations will not let counterfeit products enter the market.
Reverse-Engineering is one of the ways of copying your PCB design. It would be used by manufacturers that do not produce components for you legally. Or by PCB enthusiasts as an option. So, you should make your PCB impossible to copy in such a manner. Here are the ways to do so:
In essence, if your design “worth its salt” it will be incorporated by a manufacturer by any means. It’s approximately impossible to stop reverse engineering. Just to keep smaller companies and enthusiasts away, so they do not produce counterfeit shaming your brand.
You should know that incorporating one’s ideas and enhancing them is the way industries, including PCB manufacturing, move on. Unlikely that you will ever observe a complete clone of your PCB design on the market. But anyway, even honest manufacturers will consider using some of your design ideas in their own products.
Protection of your PCB design can be done in two ways. Decreasing the chances of letting copied PCB into the market and making it more difficult to copy the design itself.
While the first method is something worth putting great effort in, you should not be highly concerned that some enthusiasts will steal your design. They will not get many out of it. But actual PCB shops are able to reverse engineer your PCB anyway. Just consider contracting with reliable manufacturers and not forgetting about registering your IP in a proper way.
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PadPCB is a professional PCB solution supplier in Shenzhen, China. We help our clients with everything from PCB design to the final mass production….