It is a really common issue. You’ve designed a kitchen or bathroom for a potential client, who then gives the plans to a cheaper supplier. It’s frustrating and it’s also intellectual property infringement.
Basically, the designs you create are your intellectual property. And just like any asset, if someone takes it without permission (in this case by copying your plans), it can dent both your profits and reputation. The very essence of your business can be compromised.
While you could look to sue for copyright infringement if this happens – often, the best course of action is to take steps to stop it happening in the first place:
- Prepare a short confidentiality agreement or simple scope of work
A simple document between you and your customer at the outset, outlining the scope of the contract between you, can help them understand that any plans or designs are not for sharing –
- Consider requesting a commitment from the client
You could ask for a deposit. If clients have already made a financial commitment, then they are more likely to stay with you. Or you could introduce a two stage approach, which means the client only receives the ‘rough and ready’ designs until they commit to the next phase when the detailed plans will be produced.
- Use technology to restrict access to planning and design documents
Unlike the days of paper plans, there is software you can use to place restrictions on access to and use of electronic documents, giving you greater control over your intellectual property. This software enables you to limit access to just one person, limit the time the documents are available, whether they can be shared and who with and so on – and you will have the capability to remove access altogether.
- Make sure you display copyright notices on every plan, design and document you create.
- Retain the rights and arrange a licence fee
As an alternative you could require a set cost for creating the plans and give the plans to your customer, with the agreement that if they go to someone else for the next phase of works then they must pay you a licence fee or % value of the works. This way you get to retain the rights and are rewarded for your efforts.
These suggestions are easy to implement and can help protect your plans and designs from being reproduced. They also help to demonstrate that you are professional, well organised and, hopefully, the right supplier for the job.