As the Industrialized approach to construction continues to take hold, one of the most frequent questions we’re asked is, “how can I protect and preserve my intellectual property (IP) and what are the legal ramifications around doing that?” We’re not surprised by the question. In fact, we’ve been asking ourselves the same!
Our Industrialized Construction (IC) solutions, specifically KitConnect and our Kit-of-Parts, allows us, and our customers, to capture IP so it doesn’t leave the company when our people do. For construction to be truly industrialized, we must be able to capture not just design modules, but the associated rules and codes that define how those components go together, how they must be fabricated and installed, and what materials are needed to facilitate and automate the process. It’s the storing of all that intelligence in a Kit-of-Parts and content libraries that embodies IC and allows us to continue to fine tune and refine our processes.
Right now, that continuous improvement process isn’t well-tracked, and it does not span multiple disciplines. For example, designers are not just looking at overall design, but the ergonomics required to make the design useful to inhabitants which means they are not necessarily thinking about how that design is going to be fabricated, creating a gap. When your resident experts leave, their expertise goes with them. And even if they stay, the knowledge is scattered among various experts versus shared with the entire chain.
But, if we are able to store that data, and add version control, enhancements can be captured and tracked from design to construction, meaning the enterprise benefits from improved data flow. And, it means we’ve also begun gathering the knowledge needed to integrate the entire supply chain – from design to fabrication to installation.
At Project Frog, we’ve established that building and maintaining a Kit-of-Parts is really the best way to store and manage your IP. But, we know great thought goes into each of those things – and often that IP is the way firms market their expertise. Very few of us work in a fully self-contained company that handles everything from design to fab to installation, which means that IP, in order to be truly effective, must be shared throughout the entire supply chain. And that means, along with it, the rules our resident experts have crafted and integrated to ensure what’s designed can actually be built. The outcome? Open and exposed expertise, knowledge and data that can be taken advantage of by everyone along the way.
Let’s look at some examples. Let’s say you are an architect designing with a kit-of-parts, working with another firm that is local to the project. Your value is your content and your knowledge of rules for fabrication, while they are the feet on the ground hearing the client’s desire for modification or change. With the open kimono approach, the local firm could easily make modifications using the rules you’ve captured and integrated without any compensation to you. Or your fabrication partner takes your design information and adds the manufacturing knowledge thus eliminating you from the design process. Even worse, another architect is using your Kit-of-Parts, makes some changes without seeing the rules behind each component, potentially ending up with an unbuildable project.
Yet at the same time, the benefits established when that data is captured means when someone switches out the granite countertop for a marble one, only the appropriate sinks can be added. Or, the bathroom pod needs to be extended anywhere from six inches to two feet and the Kit-of-Parts will make sure everything else follows, like load bearing wall placement, giving designers and builders flexibility.
The spectrum is wide. At one end it’s share everything to take advantage of mass customization at scale. At the other end, base the exposure on each project, but don’t share any rules or knowledge behind the wall. The dilemma arises when someone argues that the intelligence in my head is my IP, and once it’s codified, it belongs to the company. Companies want your IP in the corporate library, because that’s what allows the supply chain to be connected from design to fab. In the technology world, the IP problem is addressed via legal contracts. Outside companies working with in-house software solutions sign a contract that states any code committed to that project is owned by the company. Historically, the AEC world hasn’t thought about protecting their IP until now.
For the more straightforward projects with few partners all contributing, maybe the IP is co-owned by all at the end of the project? Or perhaps we offer the ability to switch off data you don’t want people to see?
With a push toward Industrialized Construction, we’ve all taken great efforts to create a Kit-of-Parts, putting significant effort into what codes and rules should be captured, studied how it goes together, how it can be fabricated and installed, and how that can all be automated. Today, KitConnect protects IP when it’s confined to a single company. But, the issue arises when one company has architected a Kit-of-Parts, such as a bathroom pod, and needs to pass it along to the fabrication company. Then what?
With design and construction requiring people and processes to be added to technology, we believe it’s very hard to reverse engineer all the secret sauce out of your physical asset. While the exact geometry of a physical part could be copied, it would be extremely hard to replicate the process to manufacture and assemble on site.
So, let’s talk. We welcome input from the industry to facilitate our work and ensure your IP can be protected in a Kit-of-Parts.