Questions on Intellectual Property rights in Product Design

Hi. I am very curious about Product Design/Industrial design as a profession. From what little I know, and from what I can gather, one could work:

  • as an employee for a corporation (a staff designer within an “in-house” design department),

  • as an employee of a design consulting firm (that services those companies without an “in-house” design department), or

  • as a freelancer for either of the above.

My question is about the rights that a designer has over his “creations”. I’m sure that, when working for another company, some sort of contract is signed “relinquishing” all control over intellectual property created while on the job. Does the design consulting firm make the same sort of agreement with their clients? How is this issue handled, though, if you are a freelancer?

I’m sure things vary by industry… does anyone have any experience in the working arrangements in Furniture Design or Consumer Products?

Also, when (if at all) do royalties or licensing come into the picture?

Any input would be appreciated! Also, please clear up any assumptions that I have made… enlighten me!



Your assessments of the job placements are some what correct, however more often than not my consulting firm is assisting corporations who do have in-house design staff, but are looking for a fresh set of eyes on the given industry.

As far as royalties go, if you are in a consultancy the firm might negotiate a royalty to reduce the upfront cost of a design to their client as long as their hard costs are paid for and the money can in fact be made up on the back end. We have actually worked out a number of these with large companies. As far as the designers, we are developing product concepts that the ideas for we provided for initially by the client. We then use research and our instincts to develop a kick-a## product.

You may be under the misconception that many high school students approach me with, that the designers design products based on their own initial idea and then approach manufacturing companies. Though many design firms do have proprietary products they are more often than not simply marketing and portfolio pieces as it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop a single product.

As for the corporate world goes, more often than not the contracts say that all ideas and concepts developed during employment is property of the employer so royalties would be hard to negotiate.

I have freelanced on a few moonlighting gigs, the contracts are usually worded that the concept belongs to the client, they are paying you for your services which happens to be developing their product. I have worked it out however that I am named as a co-recipient of the design patent if awarded one. Doesn’t make me money, but it is a great portfolio and wall piece.

If you are in looking to get into ID for the glory and the money…look else ware, it is not here for the majority of designers 99%. Instead we are here because we believe that beautiful things make the world better, and because none of us could ever imagine a day without sketching.

That reminds me, I will save you a lot of heartache. If you cannot sketch like illustrated on this link forget it. The job market is tough, but there are ample positions for the truly talented and skilled designers.

hey designer, thanks for your reply; your comments were very helpful…

Also, sorry if me asking about “royalties”, etc.–before actually being involved in ID–sounds a bit presumptuous… I’m not looking for the glory, but think I am drawn to it for the process

Your answers are helping me more narrowly define the “area of work” that I may best “fit” into this industry…so pardon my asking of more questions!

So first, let me bore you with a little background of myself, to let you know where I’m coming from:

In my varied work experience I have always enjoyed (and been fortunate enough to be in environments that facilitate) collaborative problem solving. This process, along with the reward of “realization”, of bringing a concept to reality, is extremely satisfying to me.

Although my undergraduate degree is in business, my “real world” experience includes: working several years as a scenic carpenter, set designer, and prop builder (first for a “large-chicago-based-theatre company”; then for a small independent set builder for commercial shoots; then for a few years running my own studio, designing and fabricating sets for small theatre and local tv stations, and doing the same with furniture and cabinetry…)

And finally–for the past 4 years–I have been working for a small, creative, adjunct of a large business consulting firm. This job is a bit difficult to describe, but let’s just say that it is comprised of a great group of diverse and arty folk where skills in graphic design, web development, illustration, video production, facilitation and more are nurtured, encouraged, and sharpened. (Whew. That was a mouthful.) Needless to say, I’m not just fresh out of college, and I’d like to believe that I am no longer as naive as I once was (even if my ignorance of ID shows otherwise!)

Even during college (when I was a young naive pup), and since, I have come up with various furniture/home furnishing designs. A few (I’d like it to be more) I have “realized” by making for myself, friends, and family.

I have also, over the years, had a few ideas for designs/inventions that I was close to marketing/patenting, but have always lacked the focus or gumption to follow through. However, I am now in the process of filing a provisional patent for a novel consumer cleaning device, after an encouraging discussion with my lawyer. (further research/testing/prototypes will prove if a full patent, or even the product itself, is worth a damn…)

SO MY QUESTION IS THIS: Where does one, with the above “inclinations” fit into the world of ID? On one end of a given spectrum, I don’t see myself solely stylizing beautiful objects, and on the other, I don’t see myself as a pure mechanical (or other type) engineer. I know ID is a mixture of these, and many other, things…but what are the various positions/jobs one could have that fall within this spectrum?

BTW, I totally agree with you on having the skills to render clearly; there is nothing more frustrating than having a client not able to “see” or understand what you are talking about… I’ve learned early-on that the responsibility, of course, is mine to communicate that “idea” effectively; rough sketches, or even verbal discussions, among like-minded co-workers are quickly thrown around and understood…for clients, though, it’s important to really “spell-it-out” in terms of a clear visual depiction to get them on-board. Even with that said, though, I must admit that I do not have the skills in illustration that you showed in your link (yet?.. I hope?!)

Again, thanks for your reply… and if you’ve read this far, you are commended, sir!

Lets start with the skills set. Yes you do need to be able to have the visual and verbal communication skills to communicate your design ideas to the client, I will totally agree. However, if ones sketching skills are not on the level or better than the ones on that link I provided it is nearly impossible to get a job interview let alone a job in the ID industry regardless of Corporate or Consultancy. I am not exaggerating; I graduated with 16 people from a well-known school with in the industry, 4 years ago. Only 2 of us have jobs, and only 6 (including myself and the other employed design) ever received an interview. The one thing we all had in common, we practiced sketching and rendering 3-4 hours a day everyday.

It is refreshing to see that you enjoy the process, as do most practicing designers, in fact the ID process has been given a lot of credit as a foundation for a good business methodology for problem solving. However employers employ on skills, and mainly sketching and CAID modeling such as ALIAS. Employers for the most part could careless about the new product ideas, because in most cases the clients come to you with the ideas. Generally only the big high publicity firms are given a blue sky “what kind of new product offering do I need” kind of project.

thanks for the reply, much appreciated. I’m asking all of these questions before (and if) I make a commitment to enrolling in a Graduate ID program; if I am to invest the time and the money, what will it ultimately get me?

Is the ID job market such that an undergraduate or graduate ID degree is a GIVEN, and that having stellar sketching abilities is the ultimate differentiator?

Or, hypothetically, if one were to have stellar sketching abilities without any formal ID education (but with an unrelated undergrad degree), would that be enough to land them a job?

I’m just trying to get a feel for what’s really in demand in this industry…

On a pretty extensive, recent, tour of IIT/ Institute of Design (a friend currently is attending), the impression I had is that it is very heavy on process/theory but not so deep on practical skill development. Sure, you’re going to sharpen some CAD/sketching/rendering skills while in the program; I just don’t think the practical skills aspect is a major thrust.

You are fortunate (and skilled) enough to have gotten a job out of school, especially difficult because of the shape of the recent economy… Are you in the Chicago area, btw? Is this where your experience with ID has been?

I have been located in the Chicago area, for a 6-month freelance gig. I I lived just over the Wisconsin Boarder in a town called Zenda. I recently took a position else ware in the Midwest, but I will not say as there are only a few firms here and singling me out would be easy. Though Chi-town has more firms and more opportunity, the environment is more… lets say snoody… and just didn’t fit with my overall attitude. Mainly because the trend in design is to act like you are better than everyone else, were I feel that I am no better than any individual, and I am willing to stop and help people out. Hence the reason I am taking the time to communicate with you. However, many of the designers I have befriended are striving in the Chicago, and even New York arenas, although their attitudes have changed considerably.

As For IIT i have been to there campus, and seen many of their presentations at the IDSA Midwest conference. They have improved over the last few years, or they have enticed some better students to enroll. I remember one conference in 98 or 99 in St Louis were all they had to show were CAD renderings of the ugliest squared forms, and I remember thinking to myself wow how could a school let there students display such poor quality work.

I do not know the outlook for you as a designer without a degree in the field, most openings list 4-year degree in “Industrial Design or related field”. I have seen architects, and jewelry/metal smiths, and sculptors make the jump; but have not seen a business major make the jump, YET. I will say that a background in business, communication, and marketing would be a big plus for any designer as you are constantly trying to sell yourself and your firm, while maintaining a steady profit margin.

If you are looking for a post-grad degree I would look into U of I. They are the only school I am for sure offers a post grad. You can also try these schools; I have ordered them in what is my opinion of best to good.

  1. Center For Creative Studies (Detroit, technically eastern district but best in nation by far)

  2. Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (Obvious location)

  3. UW-Stout (Menomonie, Wisconsin located just before you enter MN on 94.)

  4. U of I (Champaign)

  5. Kansas State or Southern Illinois University (Both are lower cost, offer a lot of personal project opportunities, but both have limited resources due to location. I have seen some good designers come out of both though)

Awesome. Thanks again, very helpful. And I do appreciate you taking the time to answer (so many!) questions… I feel like I soon may start to annoy you with all of them! But hey, I might as well try for a few more, right? :wink:

As far as schools in the New York area, what do you know/have experience with? I’m looking into Pratt, don’t have much of an impression yet, as I haven’t visited… I’m also toying with the idea of schools in the San Francisco area, but really know nothing about what’s out there. (I actually live all of 1 block from IIT Institute of Design; I’m looking at it as a negative, though, as I’m also interested to change things up a bit!)

Also, it’s unfortunate to hear about the “attitudes”… too bad that b.s. comes with the territory (well, some territories, I guess…)

No Atitudes come from the ego that comes withthe territory.

I think I would personally go for New York, East Coast schools. This is just because I Really can not live with out snow, I get depressed here because if it does snow its melted within 3 days. But there is a ski hill almost in my back yard, even though the lift ticket was 3x that of devils head and cascade.

I would consider Pratt or Carnige Mellon. I have looked at both, never visited but I have talked to the professors (names escape me at the moment). C.M. does a good job of the theorising how the ideal integrated design process should take place, but so does Pratt.

Well that was a big help huh. Well I guess what I am tring to say is both of those schools are great. So go visit, talk to the profs, and students, then choose the one that you seem to “click with” more so than the other. Oh Yeah, and ask what kind of corporate sponsored projects they have for both the post- and under-grad programs. This will build portfolio as well as give you exposure to the client atmospher.

Sorry about spelling I am running late for a meeting so I do not have time to proff right now!

Hey Designer, thanks for all the input…

One LAST question on examples of drawing/rendering: Do you know of any good examples of “fast, loose” sketching styles? I’m looking to see something between Frank Gehry’s crazy scribbles and the stuff that you referenced above.

(I may post this as a separate post as this thread has gotten a little off topic)


Looks like you have the answer already. The two that I were going to suggest were already posted in your other thread.