Prototypes are valuable in every industry, from graphic design to software development. Test driving a new product is by now a non-negotiable as consumers these days just don’t have the patience for glitches, as they’re fully aware they can get the same thing (or similar) elsewhere.
There’s such a demand for new merchandise, especially when it comes to technology. This means that developers and designers are constantly vying for “first place” by coming up with the most innovative ideas. This constant competitiveness means that any plans, rough drafts, and prototypes need to be kept safe and secure.
Pitching ideas to companies carries an inherent risk, as many big businesses don’t hesitate to take advantage of individuals by appropriating their ideas. It’s a dog-eat-dog world as every enterprise strives to provide customers with the newest products and devices.
To those just starting out, the idea of safeguarding your work might seem old-fashioned—something that an inventor in the 1800s would do. But just like keeping your personal data safe is essential, the importance of keeping your intellectual property confidential is impossible to overstate too. Cybercrime is on the rise, and data of any type is now incredibly valuable.
There are many precautions you can take to keep your prototypes safe. We’ve put together a short guide with suggestions on how to protect your work.
Most people have heard of a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) but many aren’t aware of the finer details. When protecting your prototype, having interested parties sign an NDA is a fundamental part of the process.
Whether you’ve developed a new app or designed a logo for a business, the minute your idea is on paper, it falls into the category of intellectual property. This fulfills the requirement for the use of an NDA.
Such an agreement establishes the ground rules when it comes to your prototype. You present your idea or product to a company who signs an NDA, stipulating that your work will remain under wraps.
A typical NDA will include definitions of confidential and non-confidential information, the obligation of the company/business to whom you’re pitching an idea, and details such as the period of time for which the NDA is applicable.
Despite the fact that so much of life these days happens online, keeping sensitive information secure also means protecting hard copies—pen and paper notes, sketches, and plans that helped develop your initial idea into a prototype or finished product.
Every person has their own way of working. As such, taking precautions to keep sensitive information confidential can mean very different things to various individuals.
Some people start out the new product development process by sketching or jotting down notes with a pen or pencil, while others lean towards digital tools. No matter your preference, it’s imperative to keep your intellectual property secure physically as well as digitally.
Keep external hard drives in a safe place, especially if you work in a shared space. Coworking has become increasingly popular over the past two years, and being around relative strangers demands a certain level of vigilance.
It stands to reason that when you’re developing a prototype or product, you’ll generate a lot of rough drafts and notes. Protecting your intellectual property starts at the beginning. Keeping all the sketches, notebooks, and outlines you produce in a safe place.
Preserving handwritten plans might seem a little archaic, but if you’re trying to protect your design, original notes and drafts are irrefutable proof of ownership. Digital copies are essential, but the importance of hard copies, and the value of good old pen and paper, shouldn’t ever get overlooked.
Keeping all your preliminary notes also gives you the bonus of being able to look back through the design process from its very first stage. This is extremely helpful when you need to backtrack and iron out kinks.
It’s advisable to use something like a bookkeeping book with proper binding or sewn-in pages that are pre-numbered. Get the most important parts witnessed by one or two people to prove their validity.
Usually if something seems too good to be true, that’s because it is.
The vast majority of people have to work extremely hard to achieve any level of success. There are some cases in which a designer or other professional manages to strike gold when pitching an idea to an individual or a company. But these are few and far between.
Realistically, businesses don’t leap into partnerships or deals unless they’re 100% sure that a profit will come their way.
We said it before and we’ll say it again: when presenting a prototype or product to someone, an NDA is essential.
The process from idea to design to prototype and product is almost always long and laborious, which can make a quick deal very tempting. Business deals, however, are formal and full of red tape for a reason. They protect the interests of every party involved, including the person pitching their product or prototype.
Just as it’s important to keep rough drafts and handwritten notes secure and confidential, it’s vital to protect information and plans stored digitally on a laptop, USB or external hard drive. Whether it’s a digital mood board, beta version of your product, printable invoice template with potential cost information, or any other related data, it’s potentially vulnerable if stolen, or your device gets hacked.
Apart from keeping your equipment somewhere safe, you can prevent the theft of your prototype by using password-protected devices or using an app to lock your external hard drive. Some apps also have the ability to encrypt your information—so thoroughly, in fact, that if you forget your password it’s game over.
It’s also suggested that every time you allow someone to access your prototype, you document your interaction. Always make sure your communications are clear and direct.
Even if you take all these precautions, it’s still possible that your work may be accessed without your permission, or even without your knowledge. However, that doesn’t mean that safeguarding your prototypes is pointless. Anyone developing a new product that will stand out in a crowded market can and should be able to have their ideas respected and protected every step of the way.